Nothing Good’s Been Done

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Image   Parade of unemployed, George Grantham Bain Collection, U.S. Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-22193

Lyrics

As the famer lifts his eyes to god
With a handful of sun-bleached dried out sod
Tweedle Dee and Dum are taking turns
As Congress fiddles while the Heartland burns
As hopes dry up in the July sun
Ain’t it strange nothing good’s been done?

While the poor must fight on alone
Against the skimmers and the grifters come to take his home
And a mother’s losing sleep over mouths to feed
‘Cause the factory’s cutting workers they say they don’t need
Five years since this hard time’s begun
Ain’t it strange nothing good’s been done?

When desperate people march downtown
There are clubs and guns to beat ‘em down
But when the rich man steals to get what he’s got
There ain’t no lawman doing squat
When the banks are robbing everyone
Ain’t it time something good gets done?
It’s time now something good got done

It’s time now something good got done

Merry Christmas to All (and No More Idled Hands)

Image Unemployed workers in front of a shack with Christmas tree, East 12th Street, New York City,Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection, U.S.Library of Congress

Lyrics:

It’s a hell of a thing coming up on Christmas
To look at the factory dusted with snow
The path to the gates untouched by footprints—
‘Cause the line’s sitting idle second year in a row
The line’s sitting idle, second year in a row

Now the Macy’s downtown needed a Santa
Leaving 99 fellas cold on that hiring line
My holiday greeting’s the same the last year:
“Merry Christmas my brother, can you spare a dime”
“Merry Christmas my brother, can you spare a dime”

And boys without gloves are fogging the window
Staring at toys their mommas can’t buy
While their daddies kill time out down the corner—
Hands in their pockets, shame in their eyes
Hands in their pockets and shame in their eyes

Now each home with stockings hung with care from the shelf
Where it’s a foreclosing banker, not some jolly old elf
Who’ll come calling this Christmas, and finding them there
Like a leech or a locust would strip the hearth bare
Where bankers and bosses, or some great corporate chief
Doomed another poor family to scrape by on relief—
And where each vision of sugarplums that dance in the head
Is there ‘cause a child’s gone hungry to bed
Are why to pray for a sleigh that could fly through the snow–
With a big bag of justice for the people below
And to take the occasion of this Silent Night
To call out what’s wrong, and then set it right—
If we want peace earth and goodwill among men
We’d see to it no child goes hungry again
And make not Christmas Wishes, but Christmas demands:
“Merry Christmas to all, and no more idled hands”
“Merry Christmas to all, and no more idled hands”

Walk in My Shoes for a Day (Mr. Hoover’s Invitation)

Still working on recording this one

Image:  Drought refugees from Oklahoma camping by the roadside. They hope to work in the cotton fields. There are seven in family. Blythe, California   Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black and White Negatives, U.S. Library of Congress LC-USF34-T01-009666-E         

Lyrics:

Walk in my shoes for a day and you’d demand jobs right away
For every father who’s heard his hungry child cry
When you’ve felt the pain a poor man knows
Of begging “Mr. Banker, please don’t foreclose”—
When you already know what the Banker Man’s gonna say

I’m just one more idled man
Who once made a living with his two hands
‘Til the Boss Man he said “Son be on your way—
We’re much obliged, and your work’s been fine,
But today we’re shutting down the line”
I can hardly remember the last time I drew pay
I can hardly remember the last time I drew pay

Now it’s all well and good to be born to wealth
Hell, I wouldn’t mind trying it for myself
But the fact is sir that you can’t know
The half of what’s wrong with the status quo
‘Til you know what it is to be discarded
Homeless, helpless and broken-hearted
That’s when you’ll feel in your bones
What’s happenin’ just ain’t right
Try a day in my life, Mr. Hoover—you’ll see the light
Try a day in my life, Mr. Hoover—you’ll see the light

Walk a mile in my shoes and sir I think that you would choose
To find a way to lend us working folks a hand
When you’ve felt for yourself that it’s damn tiring
To be looking for work when no one’s hiring
Everywhere you roam in this hard land
I’m just the millionth mother’s son
Brung low since this hard time’s begun
When the bottom fell out through no fault of our own
And when know firsthand how that makes a man feel
You’ll swear it’s high time for a New Deal—
To find every man some hope, a job, a home
To find every man some hope, a job, and a home

 

Mister Come Take This Guitar

 

Lyrics:

Mister come take this guitar ‘cause it’s hung silent far too long
While the evils done working people demand witness with a song—
We need rhythm, rhyme and verse, anchored by a major chord
Where the idled man goes voiceless and the homeless man’s ignored
With each strum and melody, every hammer-on and bend
Its six strings will help folks sing these hard times to their end
It’s six strings are gonna help folks sing these hard times to their end

What the powerful and the privileged would rather not have said
Ten million voices ought to amplify in unison instead
Where night wraps a homeless family in the silence of despair
The steady beat of four-four time ought to reach them there
A strident tune, insistent on declaring wrong from right
Ought to sound out loud through this hard land, morning noon and night
By voices raised in tenements, on farms, in shotgun shacks
Near and far, wherever you are, a poet with his axe
Near and far, wherever you are, a poet with his axe

Mister come take this guitar ‘cause it’s needed urgently
To rally all the working people from sea to shining sea
From purple mountains’ majesty across every fruited plain
To raise their voices all together in an implacable refrain
With every note in harmony and every throat as one:
“These hard times are due for ending it’s time for justice to be done
These hard times are due for ending it’s time for justice to be done”

 

Ghosts of ’29

Still working on recording this one

Image:  Unemployment benefits aid begins. Line of men inside a division office of the State Employment Service office at San Francisco, California, waiting to register for benefits on one of the first days the office was open. They will receive from six to fifteen dollars per week for up to sixteen weeks. Coincidental with the announcement that the federal unemployment census showed close to ten million persons out of work, twenty-two states begin paying unemployment compensation  Farm Security Administration LC-USF34- 018312-D

Lyrics:

Daddy said “Make sure you shine your shoes, son
That’s the first thing that they look at—
The hiring man is quick to pass you over
If you give him some excuse”

The Ghosts of ’29 are restless in their graves
Stirred by the tread of desperate workers
Getting marched in line like slaves
‘Cause the Ghosts of ’29 lived through times like these before:
When hunger’s knocking steps behind a banker at the door

Momma said “Make sure you say your prayers, child
Though it seems like no one’s listening—
We’ll wait patiently for justice
By and by, Lord, by and by”

The Ghosts of ’29 are having trouble lying still
‘Cause hard times hit the worker hardest then
And it seems they always will
The Ghosts of ’29 teach lessons we should learn:
When the fat cats start a fire, the little guy gets burned

I hear the Ghosts of ’29 in the factories and the fields
On the shop floors, in the shotgun shacks, and in the union halls
I hear the Ghosts of ’29 in the corridors of power
In the mansions on the hilltops behind their high stone walls

As the Ghosts of ’29 awake and raise their voices
From the first whistle in the morning
‘Till the last shift ends a t night:
Inspiration to the worker, and a warning for the bosses:
“You can’t undo the past’s injustice
But tomorrow you can start to set it right”

 

 

Just a Nickel for You My Friend

Still working on recording this one

Image: Workers at apple packinghouse. Camden County, New Jersey  U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs LC-USF34- 026633-D

Lyrics:

I raise the basket to my shoulder so I can make my way
Downtown from the Bowery where I spend each day
Pocketknife to cut a sample—handbill on the wall
Selling apples on the corner, just five cents each that’s all

See in 1929 sir when they shut the factory’s door
They said “you didn’t do a bad job, son—
Just ain’t no jobs here anymore.”
Now I don’t mean to complain, sir, see I’m grateful for a way
For a man to do a hard day’s work to earn a fair day’s pay
That’s why I get here early to pick the freshest of the lot
Grab a coffee from the breadline and stake out my favorite spot

Still some days you bring home pennies
Just once—imagine that—a buck
You never know what you’re in for
When you help unload that truck
When it’s an hour south of sunrise
And you’re shivering in the dark
But it’s the best a man can do sir
When there ain’t no other work

Still I hold to hope and faith sir
Someday these hard times will end
Till then come find me selling apples here
Just a nickel for you my friend

Summer ’29

Still working on recording this one

Image: White sharecropper couple near Hartwell, Georgia Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black and White Negatives, U.S. Library of Congress LC-USF34- 018096-C

Lyrics:

I pulled my ring from a calloused hand sir
Went and pawned it for our daily bread
We took our vows with dreams of for richer
But we must make do with for poorer instead

That July sun on my naked finger
Burnt near bad enough to kill a man
Walking up them steps where my wife is waiting
When I’ve paid the rent with our wedding band

Summertime when we were younger
Was a time for laughter, the sweet joys of life
Summer ’29 is one long disaster—time for hungry kids and a sobbing wife

August came and we prayed for rain sir, prayed for rain that didn’t fall
It’s a goddamned shame there’s no escaping: wind and sun’s damned us one and all

Fire tore across the grasslands, but if you ask me it’s just as well
Note’s coming due soon on our homestead—
Bank wants my land, sir, I’d rather give ‘em hell

Summer ’29 took all our chances, dried them up, blew them away
If I live to see one hundred I’m never gonna feel the same again about a summer’s day

When the Bill Comes Due

Still working on recording this one

Image: President William H. Taft  George Grantham Bain Collection, U.S. Library of Congress LC-B2- 2016-6

Lyrics:

I saw the sin Pride out promenading
Down avenues all paved with gold
From the spoils of speculating—
Proud fortunes made at the price
Of a nation’s soul bought and sold

It’s a crying shame, sir, the state we’re in—
Where the poor man pays, lord, lord
For the rich man’s sin

I heard the sin of Greed expostulating
That the rich man’s trove
Is his needful share—
And how that squares with the cries of a hungry child
Greed don’t care

It’s the rich man’s sin, but the poor man pays—
The poor man foots the bill

When the bill comes due, lord, when the bill comes due
No more crying child, lord, when the bill comes due
When the bill comes due, sir, when the bill comes due—
No more hat in hand, sir, when the bill comes due

A Worker’s Lullaby

Still working on recording this one

Image:  Children of unemployed trapper, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana  U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information LC-USF33- 006174-M5

Lyrics:

Baby don’t you worry now, no darling don’t cry—
Your daddy loves you, I’ll find work by and by

See if the bankers and bosses with the wealth they command
Would look down from their towers upon this hard land
With all of their power what them big boys could do
Could leave no child hungry and no man idle too
No child hungry and no man idle too

And if them politicians with their big speeches and words
Would talk to the people and act on what they heard
With all of their power what them fat cats could do
Could leave no child hungry and no man idle too
No child hungry and no man idle too

And if the prayers of all fathers were heard up above
We’d have bought us the right to some justice with our love
And with all of his power what a good Lord would do
Would leave no child hungry and no man idle too
No child hungry and no man idle too

So baby don’t worry now ‘cause though times are tough
Daddy loves you, I’ll find work soon enough

The Time for Waiting’s Well Past

Still working on recording this one

Image: Howard Street, called “Skid Row,” the street of the unemployed in San Francisco, California U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information LC-DIG-fsa-8b31684

Lyrics:

“Liquidate, liquidate,” you money men say
And trust us that things’ll get better some day”
Sir when my dreams have all dried up and been blowed away
How long do you want me to wait?

“Trust Mr. Market,” you wise men opine
“Just stay the course and things’ll be fine”
When there’s a hundred men with me in this Bowery bread line
How long do you want us to wait?

First the factory cut hours, and then it went bust
Now the gates are encrusted with two years’ worth of rust
And we’re all out of money, hope, patience and trust—
We can hardly afford to wait

When you’ve been homeless and hungry and hopeless and cold
On account of the fat bill of goods you’ve been sold
And there’s 10 million workers for whom there’s no use
“Have faith in your betters” is a sorry excuse
No sir, the time for waitin’s well past

‘Cause when the poor and the idled demand what they’re owed
And all of you fat cats must reap what you’ve sowed
From the yachts off Nantucket to the end of Skid Road—
On that day we’ll see justice at last