Lou Reed – Good Evening Mr. Waldheim

Kurt Waldheim was a Nazi oficer that later came to be the head of the United Nations. Lou Reed sings about putting controversial people in ironic positions of power, when you consider that the United Nations champions equal treatment of all.

He sings about the “common ground.” This usually means finding what ideas people share to unite them. Reed seems to mean this as giving other groups their fair shake, respect and acknowledging their past sacrifices and hardships.

Examples in the bouncy rocker are double standards for Reed: that some seek common ground with other groups in society, but not Jews? It is to him a reflexive anti-Semitism that is given a free pass. Reed feels this is hypocrisy from some people, like civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Champions of racial equality in America can better appreciate what Jewish people have endured.

Elton John – Just Like Belgium

This is a 1981 song from Sir Elton, from a mediocre album, The Fox. You probably haven’t heard the song or even know about this record. That’s okay.

Belgium is a small country, about 30,000 square kilometres. Yet it has a federal structure, meaning multiple levels of government.

A typical rationale for federalism is that more than one level of government in a single state works for large countries: it’s more effective to govern with a national level taking care of issues and matters that impact all citizens… and subregional (provinces, states, landers and other names) taking care of more regional matters.

But why federalism for tiny Belgium, then?

Belgium is federal for another reason: ethnic and linguistic diversity. Their setup has regional and linguistic governmental divisions as part of federalism. Belgium has a Dutch-speaking Flemish population, and a French-speaking Walloon population. Plus, German speaking folks.

Another rationale for federalism beyond territorial size is that having more than one level of government in a single country can facilitate ethnic, linguistic and other diversities to be respected, maintained and enhanced.

Elton wasn’t singing about all this, but how many would?

Bob Dylan – Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues

November 2014 marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1961-89), which separated Germany into, roughly, capitalist and communist, the West and the Eastern Blocs. A divided Germany was a Cold War epicentre.

This 1964 bootleg Bob Dylan song parodies some of the paranoia about finding and ferreting out “Reds” (communist sympathizers in America). Bob looks everywhere, and starts investigating himself!

That may have been not such a joke, since Dylan played in East Germany in 1987, invited by communist officials. The German secret police made a report on Dylan, “Robert Zimmerman, No. HA XX 17578.” The report described him as “an old master of rock,” not likely to cause much trouble because he did not resonate much with the youth at the time.

I guess Bob needs to keep searching for commies!

(The John Birch Society was an advocacy group going back to 1958 that was anti-communist. It’s still around: http://www.jbs.org/).

Kris Kristofferson – Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down

A 1990 (dud) concept album from a country singer! Third World Warrior included this song, with Kris stating that his country kills babies, children and farmers, in the fight against communism.

It is not easy to make light of innocent civilians getting killed in wars. It certainly happens. There is often more concern for killed US soldiers, than their victims, innocent or not. The Korean and Vietnam wars apparently had enormous civilian death tolls. Today, targeted killings, such as that of Osama bin Laden, and using more precise weapons, are strategies hoped to reduce this carnage.

Lil Wayne – God Bless Amerika

Lil Wayne, in 2013, critiques his country for a foreign policy that lives and dies by the sword. The same point is made for domestic policy in terms of police and jail. The rapper then seems to get off track, describing performing a sex act on his girlfriend. Maybe it’s all somehow related? It could be about the country having no soul, being even aimless, putting disparate things together. Regardless, the image of seeing a butterfly in hell is vivid.

 

Bruce Hornsby – The Way It Is

Does passing a law change people’s thoughts and behaviors?

Bruce Hornsby was skeptical in 1986 – “the law don’t change another’s mind” – thinking back to the US 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This law banned discrimination based on skin color and religion at private establishments like lodging and restaurants, and public places at the state and local government level. Employers were forbidden to discriminate on these grounds and gender, too. The law eased restrictions on voting for African Americans, though did not end qualification requirements. It started the progress toward desegregation of public schools.

 

Ernest Van “Pop” Stoneman – The Titanic

Born in a log cabin, motherless from a toddler on, and proficient at many instruments, Stoneman (1893-1986) helped pioneer American country music. This song, from 1915 or 1916, is also known as “It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down” and “Titanic (Husbands and Wives).” Its composer is not known.

There is something about popular culture that loves tragedy, the way drivers also slow down to get a look at a car accident. Some critics of government like to claim that high profile accidents and disasters are used as excuses for further state intervention in our lives, and correspondingly, less personal freedom.

Thus, a ship sinking leads to oceanic regulations, the way a terrorist attack leads to phone tapping with the U.S. Patriot Act?

See also: Céline Dion – My Heart Will Go On