Jon Bon Jovi – The Moon Represents My Heart

Well, apparently ABBA sang English phonetically, so why not Jon Bon Jovi today?

The song goes back to the 1970s, and is best known as being performed by Teresa Teng. Her ballads have been cited as helping spread pop music in Communist China, an art form otherwise widely suppressed.

Jovi’s band is headed to China in the Fall of 2015, so maybe there is some commercial calculation going on here. But the calories burned just to sing okay in Mandarin… might that indicate some sincerity to reach not just into the wallets, but out to the hearts, of a lot of Chinese people?

Cross-cultural sensitivity is a challenging field. One can offend trying to speak a foreign tongue, however well-intentioned. A minor controversy for Jovi is that Teng is Taiwanese, and many feel this song is, too. Yet, China doesn’t recognize an independent Taiwan (see A-Mei).

Still, it is just a love song!

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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.

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.

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.

Hyon Song-wol – Excellent Horse-Like Lady

Reports are that this North Korean singer was executed this past August, for making a sex tape. Some sources deny the execution; others note that the sex tape is hardly that, and so an execution could have been for political or personal reasons. Hyon may have been an ex-girlfriend to Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s present dictator, who is married.

The bouncy 2005 song, judging by the video, appears to glorify textile factory work and is like state propaganda. Lyrics include (source from NPR):

Our factory comrades say in jest, why, they tell me I am a virgin on a stallion.
After a full day’s work I still have energy left… They say I am a virgin on a stallion.
Mounting a stallion my Dear Leader gave me. All my life I will live to uphold his name!

It is hard to imagine but information is not free flowing in and out of the Hermit Kingdom. A characteristic of totalitarian states is having a monopoly on communication that sustains the regime and shields it from criticism. We may not know the whole story, here, then, until the country collapses.

Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution

Tracy Chapman may or may not be a Marxist, but the song lyrics from this 1988 tune certainly are.

She sings about people wasting their lives waiting for government assistance and better jobs. To Marx, the capitalist class – the bourgeoisie – owned the companies and factories. These means of production were used to exploit workers for their labour. At the same time, unemployment lines for government help such as welfare can’t be too generous because those workers – the proletariats – are needed to earn profit for their bosses. Generous social programs would get in the way.

Thus, the people in the song are whispering about change. Major change. They are talking about a revolution. Karl Marx believed that workers would organize against the capitalists. That some capitalists would even join the good fight. And that ultimately, the workers and their supporters would revolt and overthrow the ruling class. When Tracy Chapman sings, “I said you better run, run, run,” she is referring to the bourgeoisie that are being taken out. Finally, the tables are turning, she sings.

Really, Marxists still wait for this natural “end of history” to organically occur, this substitution of the capitalist system with communism. Under communism, people wouldn’t exploit each other. People would contribute what they could to others, and get back what they needed. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” wrote Marx (and his buddy, Friedrich Engels). In various countries, impatient rulers instead stage managed such revolutions, such as in Russia, though even modern Marxists today have got to admit, with out bringing the Marxist utopia. Delivering equality in every way for every one is a wonderful goal, but consequences of rushing revolution instead have been millions murdered and starved to death.

How should we measure political theories then: by the intentions or outcomes? By theory or in practice?

Pete Seeger – Little Boxes

You might know this 1963 song as the original opening music to the television program, Weeds, before protagonist Nancy Botwin literally burned down the suburbia criticized by the tune.

Given that so many people aspire to a detached home in a nice neighbourhood, the brief song is somewhat sanctimonious. Inside those copycat homes can still be vibrant families making contributions to their country. But the song does draw attention to the conformity wrought by urban planning and can remind us of the importance of not following the crowd. Going into business for martini lunches does not have to be the American dream, nor does a rambling folkster life in the vein of Seeger or Woody Guthrie cut it for others.

The dominant paradigm today in city planning is “mixed use” and density,” a shift away from the American Beauty-movie conception of suburbia which only hides so many problems; to combine residential living with businesses: to live on one floor, with a coffee shop and office space in the same building. The thought behind this also seeks to rectify the transportation needs of suburban commutes to downtowns, in the name of the environment. In short, Seeger’s song (actually, written by Malvina Reynolds), has been influential.

Now in his 90s, folkie Seeger continues his activism, at Occupy Movement marches. In decades past he has appeared before the House Un-american Activities Committee, opposed the Vietnam War, helped clean up the Hudson River… the list goes on. A self-described communist once called “Stalin’s Songbird,” in fact he adopts the argument that the atrocities of the Soviet Union were not about the ideology, as it was improperly applied.

Also by Seeger reviewed here: Where Have All The Flowers Gone