Bob Miller – The Rich And The Poor Man

Song publisher Bob Miller sang this song of his around 1928. It casts a stark divide between socioeconomic classes. The rich are better off, have an easier life and it will continue to be this way. Another way of stating this view is that, structurally, the world is fixed or rigged, to benefit some, even at the expense of others. This explanation can go so far as to mean that there is little or nothing the oppressed class can do to improve their lot.

Not much can be found on Bob Miller, but he is touching on Marxism. He was writing before the Great Depression, and the emergence of public social programs and services as part of the welfare state. These government activities aimed to help those less fortunate.

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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/).

Bob Roberts – Wall Street Rap

Well, it’s not passable for rap, and the lyricism is not up to Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, though maybe this expecting too much. Bob Roberts is really actor Tim Robbins, playing a right wing Senatorial candidate in the eponymous 1992 film.

The character made money on Wall Street, the financial centre perhaps, of the USA. Seeking political office, he extols in song the selfish money making of investment bankers and ilk screwing people over, going past the bounds of ethics and law, hoping to not get caught.

Of course, this is satire, and fun, because free market folk singers are rare.

Sometimes, a parody backfires when those that are the targets enjoy the jibes at them? Still others may take umbrage at being presented as “straw men,” having their actions and activities exaggerated and misrepresented. But it wouldn’t be funny or entertaining if spot-on accurate.

Whatever, it’s a good movie, with a song pre-dating the Occupy Wall Street movement!

Janet Greene – Commie Lies

Stuff it, Joan Baez?

There were some ideological rebukes to the left-leaning folk music of the 1960s, even if obscure.

Greene was the music director for an organization called the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade. This is one of her eight recorded songs from the 1960s. It appears to be based on the melody from the folk song, Blue Tail Fly (Jimmie Crack Corn).

Greene warns of communist propaganda that when accepted will lead to a loss of freedom.

Officially, communism has a different conception of freedom, that in a classless society with full equality, all would be free. This is in the sense of none would be scraping by and all would have decent lives, free from exploitation in employment. Greene sang this is deceitful, underlining a criticism of this utopian dream: communism is impossible to achieve in practice.

Contemporary Vera Vanderlaan is another pretty much forgotten “red-baiting” artist: Freedom Is A Hammer. Greene’s Poor Left Winger is reviewed here, too.

Jimmie Rodgers – Hobo Bill’s Last Ride

Rodgers (1897-1933) may have been singing country, before there officially was country music? The “Singing Brakeman,” back in 1929, sang this sad tale of a boxcar riding man who probably froze to death, eastbound, during a storm.

A “hobo” was a term back then referring to people that travelled around taking work where they could. Keep in mind, this song was from Great Depression era times. Finding work was challenging. Even the most resourceful of souls fell on hard times, and gradually, many felt more of a role for government to assist people was required.

What we got from this, was the welfare state: a government-administered collection of services and programs, aimed at helping out those who needed help, without any assignation of blame.

Some sources distinguish “hobo” from “bum,” the latter being someone not that interested in working, even when jobs were available. Both terms are likely considered politically incorrect today. However, a criticism of the welfare state is that it creates dependency on government: that it creates “bums.” And further, that the welfare state reduces not just our self-reliance, but our personal freedom when we are recipients of public services. After all, it’s not so easy to ride the rails from town to town unless the stops all have unemployment offices along the way.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – Power To The People

Apparently, Lennon didn’t think that much of this 1971 song as the years passed. It was inspired by an interview the singer gave to Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn of the Marxist newspaper, Red Mole. From this source, peaceful revolutions were inadequate to dismantle the existing capitalist system. It’s not clear if Lennon was writing from their perspective the way a fiction author may not necessarily believe in the thoughts and actions of their characters. However, the lyrics suggest support for a worker’s revolution of the kind that Karl Marx envisioned: to take to the streets and even violently usher in communism.

Billy Bragg – To Have And Have Not

The melody seems to come from Rudy Can’t Fail by the Clash, or maybe their version of I Fought The Law. Like the Clash, Bragg is British, and his folk and protest music is punk-tinged.

This song communicates that the privileged aren’t better people than those less well off. It tries to correct a stereotype that those out of work aren’t in all cases lazy, but that they just have less opportunities than the upper class.  It came at a time of hardship for the working class in the 1980s, when even if industrious, may have found themselves struggling to get by, unemployed.

In politics “haves” and “have nots” are popular ways to describe economic classes of people in a fixed social structure. Here, the “haves” accumulate more and more wealth, at the expense of the “have nots.” In Marxist terms, these would be the bourgeosie and proletariats. Today, we have seen the division described as the 1 percent and 99 percent, from the Occupy Movement.

The title is also from the 1937 Ernest Hemingway novel, which became a film with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.