Bruce Cockburn – Call It Democracy


Canadian folkie Bruce Cockburn argued back in 1986, that the foreign policy of powerful countries is about making a buck, not lifting people in poor places out of their misery. As well, that international organizations are not benevolent, either. The International Monetary Fund is a target in one verse.

The IMF goes back to 1944, and on the face of it, with almost 200 member countries, seeks to encourage financial stability in countries dealing with low revenues, high debt, inflation, high unemployment, and more. The IMF works to foster international trade.

Cockburn figures the IMF does more harm than good, leaving developing countries in debt.

More generally, the IMF has been criticized for the conditions it has sometimes imposed on countries to get into their version of fiscal shape. This has meant getting troubled countries to reduce public spending to address government debt. The IMF has also been criticized for not been sensitive enough to local conditions and on-the-ground needs of the places it exists to serve.

Also by Cockburn: If A Tree Falls, If I Had A Rocket Launcher

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54-40 – I Go Blind

54-40 is a well-known Canadian band that blends alternative and folk influences. Like many Canadian outfits experience, finding success in the larger American market has been challenging.

Their 1986 song was covered, near note-for-note, by Hootie And The Blowfish, 14 year later:

The American band had a hit with it. The song made the Friends TV show soundtrack, and is on one of their great hits compilations. Does 54-40 feel cheated? Their song could have been the hit, and breakthrough they desired.

The band took their name from this very problem.

“54-40 or Fight,” refers to 19th century expansionist tendencies or plans of the USA, into Canada. The numbers relate to territory between Oregon, and up to Russia’s Alaska. In between, of course, this would be what would become Canada. Americans appeared to want the land and might go to war for it.

U.S. Presidential candidate James Polk campaigned on winning all this territory, in 1844. His slogan: 54-40 or fight.” Polk won, but diplomacy and compromise created the present boundaries.

Likewise, 54-40, the band, no doubt still benefits from the royalties of Hootie And The Blowfish singing their song.

Coven – One Tin Soldier

An AM radio anti-war message that highlights the ignorance of greed.

This song was originally done by a Canadian band, The Original Caste, but this 1971 version is better known, having been in a film, “Billy Jack.”

It’s a song with a story. It resonates on listening, with the Pachelbel Canon type melody. The lyrics might seem simplistic and Dr. Seuss-like when summarized in print.

There is a nation or country (the mountain people), and a warring nation or country (the valley people). The mountain people have a hidden treasure that they will share with the valley people. But the valley people want it all for themselves. So they kill off the good guys. But then… spoiler alert… the treasure is just a message about peace!

The joke’s on the you, genocidal valley boys and girls!

International conflict is rarely this simple and never this hummable!

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.

 

Country Joe And The Fish – Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die-Rag

Country Joe McDonald, of Country Joe and the Fish, was let out from the US Navy. He sang this 1967 song a few years later, at the original Woodstock, kind of on a lark and against his wishes.

It became an anthem against the Vietnam War, which is the “next stop,” meaning more deaths to come in more places. With this “GI humor” and a dollop of nihilism, it blames political leaders for the war. It denigrates large corporations that profit it. Soldiers are expendable pawns.

The song was also controversial for being borrowed in composition from an old ragtime tune. And of course, for the F-word “F.I.S.H.” cheer that sometimes introduced it.

Temptations – Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)

With so many challenges in the world, perhaps it’s best just to let the band play on. Not taking a political stance, the Temptations list ills such as racism, war, drugs, gun violence, government spending and taxes… even local government with a reference to city inspectors. Yet it is not a song of apathy or giving up, but perhaps realistic for not attempting to predict where things are headed. The chaotic, pyschedelic arrangement may attest to this. Or, that Motown was not interested in protest records despite the times.