Five Man Electrical Band – Signs

American hard rock band Tesla revived this 1971 protest song in 1990 and added some expletives. But the original was by a Canadian band with the unusual and awkward name, Five Man Electrical Band.

If you reflect on the lyrics, it’s a rather sad song: the protagonist is a relatively amiable hippie having trouble conforming to the contemporary world. He’s wandering around society, and encounters authority figures (and representations of them, through signs) at various levels, including private institutions and religious ones. He is not really welcomed at any of them.

Some of the examples of exclusion suggest a negative view towards private property. The hippie isn’t a member of a club, so can’t get it in. And he doesn’t feel it is fair that he can’t trespass on someone’s land.

These examples, however, defeat the purpose and misunderstands the definition of private property itself, which is reserved for its owners. To many, it is property rights themselves that protect one’s freedom to do what they like; further, property rights are essential for economic development in that you’ve got to own something to extract value from it, be that borrowing against it, or selling what it can produce, or selling the property itself.

No matter: the hippie has a socialist conception of property also addressed by musical peers of the era, The Guess Who, with Share The Land (also Canadian). This view of property is that it should be communally or at least government-owned to benefit everyone and not a select few that can afford property ownership. To our friend, all these signs get in the way of full fairness and equality for everyone to enjoy what God has provided.

The criticism of organized religion is another stanza. Our hippie friend attends a church service, being invited by a sign to come in and pray. But inside, he is requested to contribute some money to the offering, and is broke. Hopefully, any church worth its salt (and that has read the many Biblical verses about caring for the poor) would still welcome a poor man. But back to politics, if it isn’t too bold to suggest how to improve a classic protest song…

…it would be comprehensive if a verse also clearly examined exclusion from government. Signs would then cover public, private and religious institutions.


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