Saturday, November 22, 2008

Songs of the Unemployed

Times are getting’ rough, I’m told. Sometimes music and art say more than prose:

I Don’t Want Your Millions Mister 

Now, I don't want your Rolls-Royce, Mister,
I don't want your pleasure yacht.
All I want's just food for my babies,
Give to me my old job back.

I Don’t Want Your Millions Mister ~ Tom Rush

A Job of Work

I hate unemployment and I'll tell you why,
I want to keep working til the day I die,
I like to work, I do it well and when I can't feed my fam'ly,
Lord I feel like hell.

A Job of Work ~ Tom Paxton

The Tramp (written by Joe Hill)

If you all will shut your trap,
I will tell you 'bout a chap,
That was broke and up against it too, for fair;
He was not the kind to shirk,
He was looking hard for work,
But he heard the same old story everywhere.

The Tramp ~ singer unknown

The Shortest Story 

It is my seventh day, I taste the hunger and I cry;
my brother and sister cling to Mama's side.
She squeezes her breast, but it has nothing to provide;
someone weeps, I fall asleep.

The Shortest Story ~ Harry Chapin 

Picasso: Poor People on the Shore

They sleep in doorways;

they sleep at home.

They wear ragged clothes and carry shopping bags;

they look like us.

They use poor grammar and smell;

they have good educations and are well-groomed.


All-knowing God, show us the poor—

not just the ones who have been pushed aside in the wake of competition,

but the ones who are losing self-confidence,

the ones who are victims of the system they helped to build,

the ones whose jobs no longer exist.


Show us that there is also poverty of the heart,

when saving is more important than sharing.

Help us to find security in sharing all of our resources

so that through our total effort

we will have answered your call to be a friend in need.



~ United Church of Christ Book of Worship, © 1986

The most recent updates on the condition of 9-year-old Camryn are HERE.


  1. Apparently the song "Buddy, can you spare a dime?" was about the WWI vets who couldn't get work in the 30s. My husband can't listen to that song without getting angry. I worry for our vets coming home to this.

    I will pray for Camryn. You are a good man, Nick.

  2. Hazel Dickens has a lot of songs about poverty. Are you familiar with her?

  3. Enemy of the Republic : Yes, you’re right about the song Buddy, Can You Spare Me a Dime. I considered using it in this post (as well as a few other songs) but decided I needed to limit the songs or folks would just slip them. My anger coincides with the anger of your husband!

    The issue of unemployment and the conflict between capitalists and proletariat has been a part of U.S. life at least since the rise of the robber barons following the Civil War. I think the matter is again before us as corporations rid themselves of hundreds of thousands of employees to make themselves “profitable.”

  4. Thomas: No, Thomas, I don’t think that I am familiar with Hazel Dickens. So, I’ll look her up! Thanks for the info.

  5. Yes. Times are tough, that is for certain. How much worse can it get?

  6. I think it will get much worse--we had an economic meltdown that rivals the 1929 stock market crash; we have the highest deficit ever; 2 wars that aren't solving anything, people living on their credit cards while others are kicked out of their homes, job market shrinking---then we have a president who never cared about anyone but corporate America and he will leave Obama with a huge mess. Obama has great people around him, but he can't turn the tide; this thing has to get worse before it gets better and if we don't change how our tax dollars are spent, not a whole lot will change.

    We got vets coming home who were in the reserves, but since they got stuck with extra tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, they lost their jobs. It's never good to have a homecoming of unemployed vets.

    Okay, I'm done.

  7. Lavinia: Thank you for your comment. I keep hoping that we’ve hit the bottom and I won’t get any worse. But history—the reality that generally doesn’t make it into text books—tells a different story. It all has to do with something that historians call “balance of power.” But that’s another and perhaps much longer post!

    Enemy of the Republic: I concur with your observations. Unless we have something to balance the greed and injustice of our corporations and banks, this mess will continue over and over and over again. The Reagan administration successfully destroyed any effectiveness that the unions had in representing the workers; the Bushites have successfully increased the dominance of the world plutocracy. I believe that until the disproportionate influence the wealthy have on the political process is broken, things can only get worse—much worse—for us common folk.

  8. I hear what those songs are saying. I cannot agree, however, that the situation will get much worse.

  9. In one way or another, I think that by the end of this recession we will all be touched, somehow, by unemployment.

  10. I like those songs, especially the first 2. The last one brought tears to my eyes. Why is this a “recession” and not a “depression.” I have never understood the difference.

  11. Seems you and I are thnking sort of similar thoughts today.

  12. we're gonna hafta start behaving like communities, again. none of that one-each stuff.

    it's a lot cheaper to share big tools and big ticket items...

    i remember when we were kids...we didn't have such stupid wardrobes. and many of the clothes in our neighborhood were passed on as children grew out of them.

    people pooled their monies for food, buying larger quantities at a great discount, and then cooked together, splitting the end product amongst themselves.

    we also shared person's house grew better tomatoes...while someone else did all the onions...etc.

    capitalism sucks. if you can, co-op and collaborate with your neighbors. i'm glad my mom taught me so much back then. it's saving my ass, today.

  13. Tom Paxton rocks.
    I would never have dreamed there were a string of "unemployment" tunes. You wove them together and made a poignant post.
    It is so true.
    I've never felt such pervasive "worrying" in the voices of people who are truly afraid they will not able to feed their families...Folks who, in the past, would never have thought they'd have to worry about it.

    We have so much to be thankful for.

  14. Bobcat: I hear what you are saying, too. Since neither of us can see into the future, we can’t predict what will happen. However, based on history, I don’t things think that unemployment is as bad now as it is going to be.

    Pink: I agree with you. And I believe that the recession with affect folks in other ways beyond unemployment. Last week the Louisville Metro government began considering plans for cutting public services based on its projection of much less income in 2009.

    China Girl: Thank you; I like the songs, too. At one time I could tell you the difference between recession and depression, but I can no longer remember.

  15. Pamela Terry and Edward : Yes, I clicked over to your blog and we did post on similar subjects. “Great minds” and all of that stuff apply!

    born again commie : You’ve put a lot of wisdom here, Cat. Thank you.

    Yes, capitalism sucks. I firmly believe that it promotes consumerism and greed. And what irks me the most is that when we export it to other countries under the guise of democracy, we create the same corrupting consumerism and greed among other peoples.

    Mimi Lenox : Yep, Tom Paxton does rock! He has written so many wonderful and insightful songs that I really must feature him on the Wednesday Coffeehouse

    There are quite a few songs around dealing with unemployment. The ones that I posted were the ones of which I have CDs. In the 19th Century, there were songs dealing with unemployment cuased by industrialization: John Henry is probably the most well-known of those.

    I, too, have seen fear in the eyes of folks and heard it in their voices. People do not like living in such chaotic times with such increasing vulnerability. May God sustain us!

  16. These are real powerful songs, sir. THey tell it like it is.

  17. Can I add a song? Ray Charles singing "Busted" - I love that song.

    Scary times.

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