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6 December 2001 Edition

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We Just Want the World - David Rovics

Protest singer DAVID ROVICS is in town. He talks to Robert Allen about his hopes and dreams.

When we're living in the White House
And debating on the hill
Of all your crazy antics
We'll all have had our fill
We'll be closing down munitions plants
And Old Glory will be furled
'Cause we don't want your big machines
We just want the world

And a bill will be proposed
Section number one
We're shutting down the oil rigs
And turning towards the sun
The air will be clean
For all the boys and girls
'Cause we don't want your oil tankers
We just want the world

Face the executioner
Shut the logging camps all down
Get busy planting hemp
Leave the trees there in the ground
Life is so precious
On this little, spinning pearl
We don't want your bulldozers
We just want the world

We'll be closing down the jails
Fixing up the schools
Distributing those stocks and bonds
Changing all the rules
We'll elect a CEO
Maybe a rabbit or a squirrel
'Cause we don't want your money
We just want the world

We'll be swimming in the rivers
And running to the hills
Reading in the history books
Of wars and oil spills
If it's linear we'll bend it
If it's a straight line it'll curl
'Cause we don't want your dead-end highway
We just want the world

DAVID ROVICS has been described as a "storysinger with a guitar" in the tradition of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. He has been told he is "funny, passionate, irreverent and smart". His lyrics are "inspiring and gut-wrenchingly beautiful". He is a musician who "gives life and hope in the struggle for peace and justice". He is "a committed campaigner expressing his concerns in unforgettable words and music". Utah Phillips called him "a fine songwriter and a good activist". Gerard Colby said he is "one of the most thoughtful singers in progressive America".

He describes himself as "a folksinger of the rabble-rousing variety" - a fixture in the American protest scene, sharing the stage with the likes of Pete Seeger, Michael Moore, Billy Bragg, Howard Zinn, John McCutcheon, Ralph Nader, Eric Drooker and Fred Small - and a frequent performer in western Europe.

He sings original songs about the various struggles of the day, combining accomplished bluegrass-style flat-picking with incisive lyrics. He also does performances and workshops that focus specifically on the music of 20th-century social movements such as the radical labour movement of the early 20th century and student and anti-war movements of the 1960s in America.

Live at Club Passim, his 2000 and fourth CD, includes songs addressing issues such as the relocation of the Dineh people at Big Mountain, the antics of the Biotic Baking Brigade, the plight of the alligators, and the idea of the minimum wage strike.

His latest CD, Living In These Times, features songs about 11 September, the US-led war on Afghanistan, the alternative media, shutting down the IMF, World Bank and WTO, the bombing of Basra, a song about borders, immigration and globalisation and one about St Paddy's Battalion - the 202 Irish-American deserters from the US Army.

His arrival in Ireland is a continuation of a six-month tour that brings him back and forth across the Atlantic until next summer. "My travels have been mainly limited to western Europe and north America, but out of the places I've been, Ireland is a real favourite," he says. "I imagine this is really self-evident to people here, but it's abundantly obvious visiting here that the history of struggle has had a profound and mostly very positive influence on the Irish psyche - and the appreciation for music here is astounding."

Born in Manhattan on 10 April 1967 and brought up in the suburbs of Connecticut from the age of two, Rovics was exposed to music and protest politics from a young age. His parents, classical musicians and college professors, encouraged him to learn classical cello and did not discourage him from getting involved in progressive politics. He was also aware of his environment - socially and ecologically.

"The incredibly self-absorbed lives of the rich and miserable helped me realise that there must be more to life than things and status, plus I didn't have things and status, in comparison to my peers, so this probably helped me, a little, in identifying with those less fortunate than I. My parents were also progressive, in the midst of a sea of Republicans (in the American sense of the word).

"Also growing up in a very woodsy environment, and seeing much of that environment destroyed by the coming of the highways and strip malls had a profound impact on my environmental awareness," he says.

But it was his exposure to protest music through the anti-nuclear movement and at a socially progressive camp run by a Unitarian minister that left an indelible impact on his musical and social psyche, one which would come back to him after his days as a fan following the Grateful Dead around the country. "I didn't get into singing and playing the guitar until I was older, like 19," he says. "By the time I was 21 or so I developed a renewed interest in political activism, so moving from the folk rock kind of stuff I had been singing into political stuff, and eventually writing songs of that nature, was sort of a natural progression."

A Jewish father, an Irish great-grandmother, a poor white grandmother from Alabama, and playing the game of Risk as a child, influenced his global awareness. "I grew up learning about the holocaust in Europe, so from that angle I was aware of the existence of countries outside of the US from an early age, mainly through my grandmother," he says, adding that reading 1960s new left thinkers "such as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Jeremy Brecher" also influenced his thinking about the world.

"Lots of people are outraged by the situation, of course. In spite of the ridiculous accusations of self-hatred, etc., the anti-war movement is quickly growing. Teach-ins, rallies and other forms of protest are happening in cities and towns across North America and the rest of the world. Because of the Orwellian craziness of the current situation, lots of people are getting involved with activism who had never been involved with it before," he says.

"I don't claim to know much, but it seems to me that the time is ripe for a massive campaign of public education. Not necessarily to the exclusion of other tactics, but it seems to me that the people need to know what's going on before much else can happen, and they're not going to get this information from easy sources like the nightly news on TV," he says.

"What I think would be great is if at every concert, a representative of a local activist group would speak in between sets about the war and what's happening locally to resist it (and what's happening with regards to transforming society in general, and whatever else they want to talk about)."

As he travels the western world he feels a sense of optimism. "We've had way too much success over the past few thousand years to start being pessimistic now. My biggest fear is not that we can succeed in radically transforming society and governing structures worldwide. Of that I have absolutely no doubt. I can't imagine anyone with a knowledge of history being a pessimist,' he says.

"My biggest fear is whether we can transform the world quickly enough to avoid ecological holocaust, nuclear war, or some other kind of eventuality that would really put a damper on the future of humanity and thus, the potential for society to change (our species has to survive in order for change to happen) but even in this race against time, I have hope. There's always the 'simple twist of fate' possibility. We can never really know the future," he says.

"So yes, let's be optimistic about the potential of peoples' movements around the world to radically change everything."

DAVID ROVICS will play in Sligo on Thursday and in Dublin on Friday.

He can be contacted at: Web:; Email: [email protected]

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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