August 22nd, 2009


Raging Against The Machine, circa 200 Years Ago

"America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you've lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn't belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don't care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve."

— Tom Morello, Guitar World interview, 1997

"...Nowadays it is a duty for a poor peasant to be a soldier. He is exiled from his house, the roof of which smokes in the silence of night; from the fat prairies where the oxen graze; from the fields and the paternal woods. He is taught how to kill men; he is threatened, insulted, put in prison and told that it is an honor; and, if he does not care for that sort of honor, he is fusilladed. He obeys because he is terrorized, and is of all domestic animals the gentlest and most docile. We are warlike in France, and we are citizens. Another reason to be proud, this being a citizen! For the poor it consists in sustaining and preserving the wealthy in their power and their laziness. The poor must work for this, in presence of the majestic quality of the law which prohibits the wealthy as well as the poor from sleeping under the bridges, from begging in the streets, and from stealing bread. That is one of the good effects of the Revolution. As this Revolution was made by fools and idiots for the benefit of those who acquired national lands, and resulted in nothing but making the fortune of crafty peasants and financiering bourgeois, the Revolution only made stronger, under the pretence of making all men equal, the empire of wealth. It has betrayed France into the hands of the men of wealth. They are masters and lords. The apparent government, composed of poor devils, is in the pay of the financiers. For one hundred years, in this poisoned country, whoever has loved the poor has been considered a traitor to society. A man is called dangerous when he says that there are wretched people. There are laws against indignation and pity, and what I say here could not go into print."

— Anatole France, The Red Lily, 1894

Now, Mrs McGrath, the captain said,
Would you like to make a soldier out of your son Ted?
With a scarlet coat and a big cocked hat,
Now Mrs McGrath, wouldn't you like that?

Now Mrs McGrath lived on the seashore
For the space of seven long years or more,
Till she saw a ship sail into the bay,
Says, It's my son Ted, will you clear the way,

Oh captain, dear, where have you been,
Have you been sailing in the Meditereen,
And have you any news of my son Ted,
Is the poor boy alive or is he dead?

Well, up comes Ted, without any legs,
And in their place he's got two wooden pegs.
She kissed him a dozen times or two,
Saying, Holy God, it isn't you,

Now was you drunk, or was you blind,
When you left your two fine legs behind,
Or was it walking on the sea,
Wore your two fine legs from the knees away?

No, I wasn't drunk, and I wasn't blind
When I left my two fine legs behind,
But a big cannon ball on the fifth of May,
Took me two fine legs from the knees away,

Oh Teddy, my boy, the widow cried,
Your two fine legs were your mammy's pride.
The stumps of a tree won't do at all,
Why didn't you run from the big cannon ball?

All foreign wars, I do proclaim,
Between Don Juan and the King of Spain,
And I'll make them rue the time,
They took two legs from a child of mine,

Well then, if I had you back again,
I'd never let you go to fight the King of Spain,
For I'd rather have me Ted as he used to be,
Than the King of France and his whole navy

- "Mrs. McGrath", Irish traditional

So I was looking for the words of the folksong "Mrs. McGrath" which is about what the PTB used when they could no longer get away with press gangs - which I've never heard performed at any venue, btw, which is really interesting; I have heard "Green Fields of France" played fiercely to great applause at our Highland Games but never "Mrs. McGrath" tho' on paper it's an oft-referenced piece - and so of course I resorted to Google.

And google-dowsing brought me up short, because I also didn't know that Bruce Springsteen has started singing it (not being a Springsteen fan myself.) It's not on constant play nor has been on the radio, I can't imagine why (ahem) and I don't think it's because it's a cover of a folk song, really. I can't find it on the playlists of our local NPR station's folk show, either.

Mrs. McGrath, performed by The Boss and the Seeger Sessions Band

So here's a beautiful, furious version of a song that was used at the far edge of living memory, when Yeats wrote in memory of a dead friend Collapse )

ETA - oh this is too much: following another Youtube clew after "My Son John" led to an oral tradition that that version is about a claims denial case--!