A 'Labor Day' reminder... from 'The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd'-- 'some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen...'

[Published on Labor Day, 2014.]

I wasn't able to make the Labor Day activities in Chicago's historic Pullman district on Labor Day 2014. But throughout the day while doing other things (including the last family day at Portage Park pool of the summer), my mind kept wandering over the meaning of America's so-called "Labor Day."

We all know that "Labor Day" was part of the anti-union and anti-working class hysteria pushed by the U.S. ruling class during the decades of Red Scares that began in 1917 (with the jailing of anti-war socialists) and have continued to this day. The Robber Barons of the days of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller are now all dead and in hell, if Dante and theologians are right, but their descendants live on into the 21st Century. Rahm Emanuel, Bill Gates, Bruce Rauner, Eli Broad, Ken Griffin, and the Waltons are just part of a long tradition these kinds of guys.

So what should we talk about at Substance on Labor Day besides the opening of school for Chicago children (including my two youngest sons)?

Our roots.

For years, Woody Guthrie carried his guitar with the inscription "This machine kills fascists." Not, "This machine argues with fascists..." or... whatever. The men and women who realized -- many earlier than others -- that Nazism and fascism were going to have to be defeated and eliminated, and not disagreed with, were often in trouble during the Red Scares of the 1940s and later. But part of that is because prior to 1941, as has been clearly established in the history our children are not taught, most of the rich people in the USA supported Hitler and fascism. (Check out The Brothers for just one recent book on how completely).

Anyway, Woody's song is as relevant in 2014 as it was in 1939. What finally kept coming back to mind was the voice of Woody Guthrie and many of his songs — most poignantly, "The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd." Woody, like Pete Seeger, Steve Earl, Bruce Springsteen and only a few others, never betrayed his roots and his commitment to the working class. And so it's always best to hear his art in his own voice.

And now that you've listened to the song as sung, here are the words as written:

The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd.

Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

If you'll gather 'round me, children,

A story I will tell

'Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an outlaw,

Oklahoma knew him well.

It was in the town of Shawnee,

A Saturday afternoon,

His wife beside him in his wagon

As into town they rode.

There a deputy sheriff approached him

In a manner rather rude,

Vulgar words of anger,

An' his wife she overheard.

Pretty Boy grabbed a log chain,

And the deputy grabbed his gun;

In the fight that followed

He laid that deputy down.

Then he took to the trees and timber

Along the river shore,

Hiding on the river bottom

And he never come back no more.

Yes, he took to the trees and timber

To live a life of shame;

Every crime in Oklahoma

Was added to his name.

But a many a starvin' farmer

The same old story told

How the outlaw paid their mortgage

And saved their little homes.

Others tell you 'bout a stranger

That come to beg a meal,

Underneath his napkin

Left a thousand-dollar bill.

It was in Oklahoma City,

It was on a Christmas Day,

There was a whole car load of groceries

Come with a note to say:

"Well, you say that I'm an outlaw,

You say that I'm a thief.

Here's a Christmas dinner

For the families on relief."

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.


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