While America fought to “liberate” Iraq, country singer Merle Haggard sang in 2005 about the incongruity of having less freedom and opportunity in his homeland. This freedom is about economic opportunity: people not having the liberty to afford gas in their vehicles… making it hard to go out and buy necessities like groceries. We may better consider this related to equality of opportunity, and a comment on class and economic mobility. Still, Haggard maybe felt that while so much energy was being expended to extend freedom in Iraq, people in his own country were paid short shrift. It is a sense of freedom as in being able to do something, unimpeded by barriers beyond one’s control to remove.
The reference to police being all over Washington state could be more in line with concerns about declining personal freedom. Perhaps the location is referring to a specific incident, although the most high profile protest in Seattle, over World Trade Organization talks, occurred much earlier, in 1999. This concerned trade liberalization, not war. The geographic reference could simply be that “battle” sort of rhymes with “Seattle”?
Whatever, this is a workmanlike country addition to many other protest songs about Iraq and US foreign policy.
Rolling Stone Magazine considers this one of the greatest 500 songs (#439) of all time. Various American politicians have borrowed Pink Houses for their campaigns, and Mellencamp has performed it for President Obama.
The song is about equality of opportunity, a concept in part maintaining that people in a free society are able to achieve whatever dreams they might have.
Mellencamp’s verses suggest an America of such upward mobility is not so universally the case: an African American with a freeway practically running through his house is contrasted with a materially richer person that works in a downtown high rise office and is able to vacation in Mexico. Likewise, riffing on the promise that one day, anyone can grow up to be president, a young adult in the song once had this dream but it has died.
Much public policy thus works at identifying barriers to equality and economic mobility, and then designing and implementing solutions.
The beginning drum pattern of this 1967 song is said to be a Native American one. Jimi Hendrix had Cherokee ancestors and some analysis of his music finds this genealogy was more influential than is widely considered.
It’s not clear if the lyrics refer to Native American issues, as the song was also simply described as a “freak out.” However, the sense of an absence of hope for the future is communicated and may resonate, historically, with American policy towards Native Americans: in the 19th century, Native Americans “in the way” of the westward expansion of settlers, assimilationist laws of this time and through to the 1960s, tribal relocations geographically.
So many lacklustre live versions over the years have made this song lose its shine. The simple melody unfortunately seems consciously designed to permit latter day Bob to mumble the lyrics incomprehensibly. But it is surely one of Dylan’s most famous protest songs, and one that can really rock.
The narrator doesn’t want to work on Maggie’s farm no more. Now, it’s been joked that Dylan would hardly make a very productive farmhand, and that Maggie would have fired him long ago… but the farm has been interpreted to represent many things: industrial exploitation of workers, racism if the employees are African American, overly powerful governments, the military, and more. The song is also widely seen as Dylan’s kiss off to folk music: a protest song against the protest songs he became typecast with; he performed it at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in a raw, electric blues manner off putting to many, but perhaps necessary to free this artist to move on to other challenges.
One mark of a truly great folk and protest song is when it can mean many things to many people, but also not be so vague as to be meaningless. Dylan achieves this here. If we could tie the interpretations together with a common thread, Maggie’s Farm is like a countercultural rallying call, an anthem of nonconformity presaging or welcoming the late 1960s hippy movement. At least, a message to us all to not follow the crowd so readily. Alas, all of us going separate ways brings challenges for governing society that is easier done with a predictable, homogeneous agglomeration of individuals. So be it?
When one thinks of folk music and the 1960s, it’s all civil rights and peace and love and… well, not universally. Janet Greene isn’t well known but sings here about a folkie supposedly duped by the beard of Karl Marx. The tune satirizes coffee shop folk singers, and even reviews the Marxist concept of “dialectical materialism,” in which economic systems progress and change, ultimately transforming to the selflessness utopia of communism. Greene suggests that the real motivation for support of this ideology is the folk singer’s lack of success in life: he’s a “frustrated heel,” looking for a political scapegoat (capitalism) to blame. There is an irony here given Greene’s obscurity! Still, let’s consider her mildly refreshing if folk music too often sticks to one side of the political spectrum.
This is not a silly love song. The awkward 1980 lyrics don’t read like poetry, but discuss the philosophical concept of free will: Is one able to make a choice independent of any barriers and constraints?
Progressive rockers Rush want us to choose to make choices. That is, we can accept our lot in life even if it’s not going so well… or we can do something about it. Here, Rush may be paying lip service to very real political, social and economic barriers that can prevent people from taking steps to reach their goals. Philosophy, too, might politely argue free will does not exist (Google “hard determinism”).
But while Rush prefer long songs and concept albums, still they don’t get fully into the debate here. They freely chose not to?
The Who guitarist Pete Townshend has said be careful what you wish for when it comes to revolutions: you might not get what you hoped for: you might get fooled again. Even if major change is required in a country, there is no guarantee that things will change after any fighting in the streets, after any new constitutions, after any banners are flown and liberation has supposedly come. This is a cynical but practical examination of social and political policy directions, and in a way, conservative, too, to the extent of being skeptical of the benefits of major, yet untested reforms. In another way, coming from 1971, Won’t Get Fooled Again could be seen as damping the spirits of the youthful flower power naivete of the hippies. Even if that’s a tad mean-spirited, and squelches enthusiasm…
Townshend also called documentary film maker Michael Moore a “bully” for using the song in his 2004 Fahrenheit 9/11 film about the USA after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Townshend did not want his anthem of sorts to be used by Moore, as he felt his films could be more accurate. Moore charged back that Townshend supported the war in Iraq, which may not have been the case.