The Devil Lies Waiting for the Idle It’s True

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Image  Dwellers in Circleville’s “Hooverville,” central Ohio, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection, U.S. Library of Congress, LC-USF33- 006580-M

Lyrics

Idle hands don’t suit me, I don’t know how to spend my day
Idle hands don’t much suit me, don’t know how to spend my day
Sign on the gate said ‘No men wanted’—
I waited in line there anyway

‘Cause I tried asking for work, then raising my fist in the air
I tried asking for work sir, and then raising my fist in the air
But the bossman he don’t need me—
An the bankerman just don’t care

See when I did worked the factory, I felt no shame being poor
But on account of them big boys ain’t no jobs here no more
That’s why you’ll find me a ghost of who I once was
‘Cause a man’s only as good as what a man does

So the devil lies  waiting for the idle it’s true
But the devil must be waiting for the bankerman too
‘Cause to kill a man’s pride surely must be a sin
So I’m gonna save a place here in this hell that I’m in

99 to 1

Still working on recording this one

Image:  One dead, fifteen wounded in strike clash, Photograph shows armed deputy sheriffs attacking a crowd of pickets at the Spang-Chalfant Seamless Tube Company plant, near Pittsburgh. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington LC-USZ62-26197

Lyrics:

Passionate hearts, and skilled, willing hands
You’d have thought play some part in the bosses’ grand plans
But the Big Boys back East want to shut this plant down
Takin’ jobs down South, to some non-union town
Or over the border, down Mexico -way—
Where desperation’s making workers beg for pennies a day
‘Cause the boss man’s banner is the dollar, and his battle cry is “More!”
And he’s been doing all the shooting in this haves-on-have-nots war

See the bosses won’t stop pushing till your back’s against the wall
And the bosses won’t stop taking, until they’ve took it all
They’ll take from you by law, and they’ll take from you by theft
They’ll take what you’ve got coming, and they’ll take what you have left—
It’s getting to the point a man can’t care for a family anymore
From losing of battle after battle in this haves-on-have-nots war

All the politicians counsel “turn the other cheek”
Singing praises for the worker while they sell him up the creek
What they call “negotiation” means “they take and you give back”
“Just look, son, to the brighter side of getting ‘squat’ or ‘jack'”
It’s hard to play the hand you’re dealt when every deck is stacked
‘Cause the bosses’ plan ain’t compromise, it’s “attack, attack, attack”
It’s 99-to-one or worse if you’ve been keeping score
Advantage to the rich man, in this haves-on-have-nots war

See the bosses won’t stop pushing till we’re too afraid to take a stand
And there ain’t a union left unbroken across this whole hard land
They’ll do it by dividing us and breaking locals one by one
With contracts or their cronies—or with the Pinkerton’s gun—
It’s getting to the point my friend where a man can’t hardly live
In this war on working people mister something’s got to give

Some Say a Good Lord Sits in Judgment

Still working on recording this one

Image: Parkin (vicinity), Arkansas. The families of evicted sharecroppers of the Dibble plantation. They were legally evicted the week of January 12, 1936, the plantation having charged that by membership in the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union they were engaging in a conspiracy to retain their homes; this contention granted by the court, the eviction, though at the point of a gun, was quite legal. The pictures were taken just after the evictions before they were moved into the tent colony they later enjoyed U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs LC-USF34- 014009-E

Lyrics:

Some say a good lord sits in judgment
Of how we treat our fellow man
But the Boss, he don’t believe it—
I just don’t see how he can
While putting screws to desperate workers
When times are hard and things get tough
He’ll squeeze you till you’re barely breathing
And takin’ all you had’s still not enough

Some say a good lord sits in judgment
Of how we treat our fellow man
But the Banker don’t believe it—
I just don’t see how he can
While putting families on the street sir
‘Cause they’re behind on a mortgage note
In good times he’ll slap your back and share you credit
In bad you’ll find his foot on your throat

Some say a good lord sits in judgment
Of how we treat our fellow man
But the Governor don’t believe it—
I just don’t see how he can
While doing the bidding of the Bosses
And carrying the Banker’s water too
He’ll shake a poor man’s hand and talk your ear off
But there ain’t a damn thing he’ll do for you

Oh it’s clear he’s got no fear of
Owning what he’s done in this life
He’s all smiles to your face sir
But you turn your back, he’ll twist the knife

Some say a good lord sits in judgment
Sir I do hope this is true—
That for these hard times we might see justice
For all the evils that men do
For all the evils that men do

Music I Dug & You Should Hear week of Jan 17: St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Debbie Neigher

A few words on the Music I Dug Most & You Should Hear in the past week:

St. Paul and the Broken Bones are the real deal: true, gritty, tonsil-shredding, toe-tapping, booty-shaking, and tear jerking soul.  Listening brings me back decades to the “wow” and the sense of commitment and energy I felt hearing early Springsteen.  (Plus there’s the surprise factor of expecting the lead singer ought to look like the late great Clarence Clemons and discovering instead that he’s kind of  a bookish white dude.)  The spirit of Motown lives on in these guy: we ought to thank them for keeping it real.  And even if that’s not your thing you owe it to yourself to check them out.

I’m way behind the times on this one: I only recently discovered Debbie Neigher’s music; so far I’m only in a position to comment on her 2011 self-titled debut.  But what a debut:  I’m pretty obsessive about lyrics, so if an artist is going to hang his or her hat on a  piano and clever turns of phrase odds are I’m not going to be wowed (unless you’re Regina Spektor, in which case I worship at your feet/pedals).  But I’m wowed: so many smart, surprising lines (“I’m lying on a bed of evergreens in my head” in Evergreens;  “There’s static on the radio but I can sing without the music anyway…. I can feel you without remembering your face anyway” in Frames). For me it calls to mind the estimable voice of Natalie Merchant plus that extra edge of more-than-just-pop creativity like Spektor delivers.

And now a word from our sponsor (that would be me).  Pride of place in the last week out of all the music I’ve been working on goes to Down to Our Last Dollar.  I constantly ask myself “what’s the first 30 seconds of music I want people to hear?”  (This is a fraught question, since the simple but epic first 30 seconds of Nebraska are why I learned to make music…)  There’s nothing fancy here: a piano riff that I wouldn’t add a note to, and declarative lyrics that sum up the story of the photo from the Great Depression that inspired it:

In our rusty old truck alongside of the highway
In the Devil’s own corner of the USA
It’s down to fuel or food with our last dollar:
Darling I don’t think we’re having supper today
No darling I don’t think we’re having supper today

Kudos paid to great artists in 2015 to date: 2