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.

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Woody Guthrie – Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)

A California plane crash in 1948 killed a number of migrant workers seeking to return to Mexico after a term of seasonal labour. Guthrie felt that their tragic deaths should have been better honoured, such as by some media reports that failed to identify the victims by name. The implication is that Mexicans were not considered equal to other Americans. A memorial was finally erected in tribute, in 2013.

Apparently, Woody only spoke the words, and music was added much later by others. Here is Woody’s son, Arlo, singing the song for us: