Harry Targ : Sometimes We Have to Sing

The banks are made of marble:

Sometimes we have to sing

By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / August 10, 2011

Fred was dating a young woman who gave him the two Weavers Carnegie Hall albums for Chanukah in the winter, 1958. He brought the albums over to my house so I could listen. He never got them back.

I’m not a Red Diaper baby. I didn’t read Marx until the 1970s. I don’t know when I decided I was a Marxist. I didn’t start teaching Marx and political economy until the late 1970s. But I became a small “r” red when I first heard those albums. Then on to Pete Seeger alone, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, and later Arlo Guthrie, Phil Ochs, and even Kris Kristofferson and Bruce Springsteen.

From time to time I reminisce about all this as I still listen to the music that makes me mad, makes me cry, and makes me want to hit the streets. I forget the fine tuned lectures I listen to and even give myself, on neoliberal globalization, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, over-production and under-consumption, and financialization, and break into song and tears as I hear the old music in the car or at home.

The deficit battle, which is a farce except for the pain the outcome will cause working people, reminded me of the Weavers blasting out “The Banks Are Made of Marble.” They sang of travels around the country seeing all the suffering that the capitalist system was causing; “the weary farmer,” the idle seaman, the miner scrubbing coal dust from off his back, “heard the children cryin” as they froze in their shacks, and the suffering of workers everywhere.

Why does the song suggest there is so much suffering all across America? The answer is so simple:

…the banks are made of marble

With a guard at every door

And the vaults are stuffed with silver

That the miner sweated for

The song, written by Les Rice in 1948 said the antidote to this situation was workers getting together and together making a stand. He predicted that the result would be a good one:

Then we’d own those banks of marble

With a guard at every door

And we’d share those vaults of silver

That we have sweated for

I also was thinking about an old Robin Hood song written by Woody Guthrie in the 1930s about an Oklahoma legend, Pretty Boy Floyd. According to Woody’s rendition, Pretty Boy Floyd got into a fight with a deputy sheriff and killed him. Floyd was forced to flee and allegedly took up a life of crime. At least authorities and journalists blamed Floyd for every robbery or killing that occurred in the state of Oklahoma. “Every crime in Oklahoma was added to his name.”

But in true Robin Hood fashion Pretty Boy Floyd stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Floyd, the outlaw, paid the mortgage for a starving farmer. Another time when Floyd begged for and received a meal in a rural household, he placed a thousand dollar bill under his napkin when he finished dinner. One Christmas Day Floyd left a carload of groceries for starving families on relief in Oklahoma City.

And in these days of massive unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, criminal wealth, and staggering poverty, through the voice of Pretty Boy Floyd, Woody Guthrie tells the wrenching story of capitalism that today is not too much different from during his time.

Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered

I’ve seen lots of funny men;

Some will rob you with a six-gun,

And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,

Yes, as through your life you roam,

You won’t never see an outlaw

Drive a family from their home.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical — and that’s also the name of his new book which can be found at Lulu.com. Read more of Harry Targ’s articles on The Rag Blog.]

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