Friday, September 15, 2017

The Key to the Hypocrisy of Socialism

I was recently listening to Sirius XM 's The Beatles Channel.  The song that was playing at that time was not one of the Fab Four's, but rather one that reflected one of their musical influences: Woody Guthrie's 1940 tune: "This Land is Your Land."

Like most people my age, I remember being taught this song in school as a young child.  It is a modern-day folk song that cheerfully celebrates the vastness and diversity of the American landscape.  It opens:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the Redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

It's a rather innocuous patriotic ditty.  Only it isn't.

In this version of Woody Guthrie's anthem, I heard a verse that I had not heard before:

As I went walking, I saw a sign there
On the sign it said 'No Trespassing'
But on the other side it didn't say nothing
That side was made for you and me!

This is obviously a swipe at the concept of private property. Its use as a patriotic children's song is a bit of Trojan-horse irony.

And this anti-property sentiment makes sense, given that Woodie Guthrie was a himself Communist (and a Stalinist at that).  Most versions of "This Land" are bowdlerized by removing this Marxist verse, along with another controversial stanza bemoaning hungry Americans relying on the government "relief office" for sustenance - ostensibly because the capitalist system rooted in private property is the cause of poverty.

At the end of the song's performance on The Beatles Channel, the announcer, Peter Asher, addressed the usually missing verse, and praised it for its positive expression of Socialism. He used the adjective "powerful."

Peter Asher was a bit before my time.  He was part of the early sixties folk duo Peter and Gordon. After his band's split in 1968, Asher went into the business side of music, worked with the Beatles, and eventually had a stellar career as an executive.  In 1995, he was appointed senior vice president of Sony Music Entertainment - a multi-billion dollar subsidiary of the Sony Corporation (whose revenue in 2016 amounted to $67.9 billion).  Asher was made president of Sony Music Entertainment group in 2005, and resigned in 2006 when he co-founded his own company, Stretegic Artist Management.  Asher's whole executive career is founded on contracts and the enforcement of copyright law.  Music is a commodity for which one pays money.

It's curious that an entrepreneur, executive, and former president of one of the richest and most powerful corporations would praise Socialism and trespassing.

The song itself has an interesting history.  Guthrie often performed it without the two controversial stanzas.  It has been covered many times over the decades by numerous other folk artists and rock musicians - both with and without the Marxist sentiments.  Guthrie's son, Arlo Guthrie, was roundly criticized by the Socialist Workers' Party not only for performing the "clean" version of his father's song, but also for registering as a Republican and supporting libertarian private property advocate Ron Paul for president in 2008, as well as for sympathizing with the anti-Marxist Tea Party movement.

"This Land" was performed at the Obama Inaugural celebration in 2009 at the Lincoln Memorial by Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger (who was a friend of Guthrie and also himself a Communist, publicly embracing the term as late as 1995), and others.  This performance chillingly included the anti-private property stanza (see between minute 3:00 and 3:30):

There are other pop songs that likewise denounce private property and embrace Marxist economics and politics.  John Lennon's "Imagine" (1971) comes to mind:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

But again, there is a note of dissonance in this otherwise euphonic composition, insofar as John Lennon was one of the richest musicians in the world.  One of his "possessions" that he wanted the world to "imagine" not existing was his own Rolls Royce.  Lennon's net worth at the time of his tragic death at the age of 40 was $800,000,000.  

Another pop song in this vein is the 1970 hit "Signs" by the Canadian Five Man Electrical Band.  It was written by Ottawa, Ontario rocker Les Emmerson, and was covered by the American heavy-metal band Tesla in an acoustic "unplugged" version in 1990 (and I like Tesla, so I'm embedding the video)...

The song includes the stanza:

And the sign says, "Anybody caught trespassing will be shot on sight"
So I jumped the fence and I yelled at the house,
"Hey! What gives you the right... 
To put up a fence to keep me out,
"Or to keep Mother Nature in?
"If God was here, He'd tell it to your face. 'Man, you're some kind of sinner.'"

Again, the song suggests that private property is immoral, that fences are to be jumped and disregarded, that it is wrong to keep people out of one's property, even in the proximity of one's house (which also got "yelled at" in the song's narrative.

Now, I don't know anything about Emmerson, his bandmates in Electrical Band, or the guys in Tesla.  But I suspect they live in houses, may even live in "gated communities" complete with fences - and maybe even signs!

But there is one little thing that almost every person has in his pocket that blows away all Socialist pretensions about private property: a tiny common object rooted in a primitive technology that exposes the hypocrisy of all such popular song lyrics and Socialist pontifications of corporate executives: the key.

John Lennon's Rolls Royce, Peter Asher's automobile(s) (probably not a 15-year old Chevy with a broken air conditioner and bald tires, if you catch my drift), and even the homes of people like Les Emmerson and the guys in the Five Man Electrical Band and Tesla - all make use of the simple key.  Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger probably had sets of keys in their pockets as well.  Bruce Springsteen probably still does.  Moreover, something tells me that if he came home and found me in his house, he would probably not join me in a chorus of : "As I went walking I saw a sign there/ And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."/But on the other side it didn't say nothing,/That side was made for you and me."  In fact, I would suspect that he'd call the police.  But that would never happen, because he probably has quite the security system to exclude other people from his house and property.  

Keys today may be sophisticated or simple.  They may operate by means of microwaves or primitive notches designed to turn manual tumblers.  But the purpose of the key that nearly every Socialist has in his pocket is not to open the door of the house or to start the engine of the car.  A knob or a button can do that.  The key's actual purpose is to keep other people out.  The ubiquitous key is a tool of exclusion, a means to enforce the rule of "no trespassing" and is the very antithesis of inclusivity, equality, and Marxism.  The key is a symbol of capitalism, trade, and individual liberty.  The key is a confession of the sanctity of private property, in thought, word, and deed.

Keys speak louder than lyrics.


Anonymous said...

Larry Beane, you have nailed it. You'd think the so-called homeless problem (or any other social injustice) would be but a distant memory if only for the compassionate ones among us leaving their doors unlocked. My own newspaper column was about this same song and verse. It didn't change the world either. But let's keep trying.

CyberSis said...

Outstanding observation.
The sound that tiny little key makes is deafening!

jimbob1028 said...

One of the very few arguments with my wife that I ever won was about whether This Land was patriotic or subversive.

Come to think about it, the only arguments I ever won with my wife in the past 36 years were about lyrics to songs. I argued that Imagine was anti-Christian and that Take a Walk on the Wild Side wasn't quite as wholesome as she thought. She's been right about pretty much everything not involving song lyrics, to which she admits that she doesn't really pay attention.

Totally forgot about Signs.