By Jeff J. Brown
Pictured above: David Rovics is a gifted, anti-empire singer-songwriter, whose voice needs to be heard by China Rising Radio Sinoland fans. Today’s interview with him is penetrating, very enlightening and at times funny.
Sixteen years on the streets, living and working with the people of China, Jeff
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Original audio podcast, which you can download at the bottom of this page,
Note before starting: I love Mr. Rovics’ music and admire and respect his message. I hope you will check him out. To help in that endeavor, I picked seven of David’s songs, each one covering a particular theme or subject, as points of conversation.
I interviewed him again in 2018 and the transcript is forthcoming. In the interim, we also had the pleasure of meeting each other in Denmark, of all places!
Here are the songs:
Egyptian Rag http://www.davidrovics.com/songbook/egyptian-rag/
What Do You Call It http://www.davidrovics.com/songbook/what-do-you-call-it/
Up the Provos http://www.davidrovics.com/songbook/up-the-provos-2/
To learn more about David, here are his websites, plus the promised link to the Al-Jazeera documentary:
His main website: www.davidrovics.com
His SoundCloud station: https://soundcloud.com/davidrovics
To buy David’s music: https://davidrovics.bandcamp.com/
His Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Rovics
Jeff J. Brown (Host)- Good morning, everybody. This is Jeff J. Brown in beautiful Beijing, China, for another China Rising Radio Sinoland show, and this is a very, very special installment, because today we have on the show Mr. David Rovics. He is a singer-songwriter from the United States who hails out of Portland, Oregon. How are you doing this morning, David?
David Rovics (Guest)- Great, Jeff. How are you doing?
Jeff- I’m doing super. Hey, listen, I just was just curious, how did you end up in Portland? I mean Seattle has Nirvana and Grunge and San Francisco has Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. Was it the microbreweries that drew you to Portland?
David- A lot of good microbrews here. But actually, I did live there in the past. I lived in both Seattle and San Francisco for some of the reasons that you mentioned back before either city was gentrified. And I moved to Portland basically because my daughter’s mother moved here. They go to medical school.
Jeff- Oh, wow.
David- I always thought living in Portland was a nice idea because all the refugees from Seattle and San Francisco were moving here. But now too many of them are moving here and it’s becoming just as pricey, almost as pricey.
Jeff- Yeah. Hey, listen, I’m sure 99 percent of my China Rising Radio Sinoland fans out there probably do not know about you. And so, this is a great chance for them to get to know you. I want to let you know I found out about you by reading the anthology of articles or blogs by the Saker. He’s a Russian writer. And his website called www.thesaker.is his service in Iceland and he is anti-imperial, anti-Western, a Russian emigre who lives in Florida. The genocide in Ukraine starting in 2014, really launched him into a celebrity. And he quoted a couple of your songs in his book and I thought I want to check this guy out.
And so, I did and I immediately fell in love with your work and have been intrigued ever since. One question I wanted to ask you about your musical career. I noticed since I did buy your catalog that there’s just been this exponential growth in your output especially like in the last two years. Is this just because you become better in the studio and a better producer, or has your writing increased exponentially recently? I mean, why all of a sudden, is this huge slug of albums starting in about 2013?
David- Well, I have definitely been on a roll with writing more than ever in the past several years. But it also has a lot to do with just technology because I used to just record songs and get them up in some form on the web. But now it’s so easy to do online albums. So basically, if I have an album worth of stuff, I’ll just book a day in the studio and make a decent-sounding solo guitar album and put it on Bandcamp. So, most of those albums and those songs you’re talking about have never been on in any kind of physical CD form but they exist.
Jeff- Yeah, well, I’ll definitely talk about trying to introduce people to your music at the end. As far as travel I listened to your catalog twice now from front to back and I know you’ve traveled to Europe. What about Asia? Have you traveled over here in Beijing?
David- I’ve been many times to Japan and Hong Kong and also to West Asia to what we call from a Eurocentric perspective, the Middle East. But I’ve never been to China other than Hong Kong.
Jeff- OK, all right.
David- Go sometime.
Jeff- Well, we’d love to have you over here. Hey, well, listen, what I really want people you have a wonderful website, which I will give at the end. You have a SoundCloud account. You have a Wikipedia page that somebody did a masterful job with. So instead of spending a lot of time talking about your biography. Hey, well, listen, I’d like to immediately get into your work. I mean, I just love your anti-imperial stance and I noticed in your Wikipedia that you’re a member of the Industrial Workers of the World maybe we can talk about that some other time because I’m looking for some kind of an outlet to express myself along similar lines.
But I cataloged all your songs and you do have some definite categories, such as police brutality, Palestine, and the Jewish diaspora. You’ve got some great human-interest stories and you must be a great reader of history because you’ve got some historical stories. You’ve got some humorous, sarcastic ones. And then you write very eloquently and angrily about what I call America’s being a worldwide Wehrmacht war machine across the planet.
And then you’ve got tons of songs about capitalism and environmental desecration, civil disobedience, Ireland, which I love, and communism, socialism, labor unions, Obama politics, and American politics. You even have a couple of children’s albums. And so, what I did is, I picked maybe six or seven of your songs that were just no way, we can cover all of these different categories in today’s interview. But I just picked a few and I just would like to find out what was your inspiration and how did you research them and what inspired you to write about them? And the first one is Assata. And to be honest with you, I had never even heard about this lady. And it centers around police brutality. Tell us about Assata Shakur.
David- I first heard about Assata Shakur, I guess, as a teenager when I first discovered this incredible history in the United States of the Black Panther Party for self-defense and which I had never heard about all growing up, which somehow just shocked me when I first heard about this social movement, because, I mean, growing up in the suburbs, certainly I heard a lot about Martin Luther King and I heard a lot about the civil rights movement. But the existence of the Black Power movement was completely absent from my education. I had no idea that any of this stuff existed.
Jeff- Neither did I.
David- Yeah, I mean, it’s not surprising. I think it’s just the way it’s the American propaganda educational system. I mean, they decided MLK was somebody they can work with in teaching about the past. And they just drop people like Malcolm X and Assata Shakur and Huey Newton out of the history books completely.
Jeff- And when Martin Luther King went off script, they killed him.
David- Exactly. Yeah. One year to the day after he went off script, he was dead.
Jeff- Exactly. Please continue.
David- So, I mean, I heard about Assata Shakur in the context of the Black Panther Party and a long time ago, and then basically when on 2013, May 2nd, 2013, oddly enough, on the anniversary of the extra-judicial assassination of Osama bin Laden, the FBI agent named Agent Ford got on TV along with the governor of New Jersey, Christie, saying that they had just doubled the bounty on Assata Shakur’s head and made her the number one most wanted terrorist on the FBI’s most wanted list.
And of course, for people familiar with sort of the US social-political scene. The FBI has long had a most wanted fugitives list. But at some point in the past few years, I don’t know when sometime after 9/11, they clearly changed that to the most wanted terrorist list because I guess any fugitive is also a terrorist in modern parlance.
Jeff- Yeah, yeah.
David- So when they doubled the bounty on her head, I was inspired to write a song about it, but I had known about it for many years before that.
Jeff- Two million dollars.
Jeff- And for those of you who don’t know, she has an amazing story. She escaped from a prison in the United States somewhere in the late 70s or early 80s. And she somehow found her way to Cuba where she is a prisoner of conscience. I’m sorry, a fugitive of conscience down there. And she’s still alive. She’s 68 years old and she still lives there. And it would be fascinating to talk to her. I don’t know if anybody ever has and she has a great line I saw recently. The only thing we have to lose are the chains that binds us.
Well, what is your take? I mean I have been in China now for the second time. This is our fifth year. And we actually lived here seven years back in the early 90s. And this police brutality looking from here in Beijing is absolutely embarrassing and it’s disgusting and it’s just revolting. What I mean is, are Americans just too beaten down, or is it just because it’s the thousand people that are being killed each year and growing are mostly poor and dark-skinned? I mean, where is the outrage about police brutality now?
David- It’s sort of I would say complicated question, complicated answer. But basically, on one hand, a lot of people are outraged. I would say the vast majority of African-Americans are outraged and a very significant number of the rest of the population of the country are also outraged by police brutality. And in terms of the thing is that in order to have a successful big social movement, you need more than just outrage.
Jeff- Yeah, yeah. OK.
David- People need to believe that something can change. So, there’s a lot of outrage but there’s also a lot of cynicism.
Jeff- Yeah, there are feelings of hopelessness.
David- Oh, yeah, absolutely. And then, on the other hand, the history of racism in the United States, which is impossible to overstate and cannot really be adequately explained to people who do not grow up here. But it’s comparable to Israel or South Africa or others.
Jeff- Oh, absolutely.
David- Racist society. Racism is part of the soul of this country. This country was founded on slavery. Slavery was the economic model of this country.
Jeff- And genocide of the Native Americans.
David- Yes. They kill the Natives and brought in enslaved Africans to do all the work. And that is an essential aspect of the history of this country. And it still plays out constantly and there have never been reparations. Most African-Americans in the United States are essentially part of a historic sort of oppressed group that is still very much oppressed systemically in so many ways and basically makes up a sort of underclass in so many ways. So, it’s very much part of the whole sequence.
Jeff- As I’ve said about Israel and the United States countries that are founded on violence, genocide and extermination are just inherently violent and genocidal, and racist in their daily lives. So, I’ve heard two theories about this. One theory is, is that the violence against blacks and minorities, and poor people never really maybe it went down in the 60s during the civil rights movement. But with Jim Crow laws and then after that, it never really went away and it’s always been there.
And it’s just the fact that we all now have phones and phone cams that we’re exposing it. So, we’re exposing what was always there. And then I’ve also heard the theory that, well, it really did drop after the civil rights movement. And it just really started building up in the last five or ten years. Which one do you think is a probably more accurate picture of what’s going on?
David- I don’t have any reason to believe in terms of my understanding of the past hundred and fifty years or so since the Civil War which is fairly that’s my, I’m really a big fan of history.
David- My favorite periods are the 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries. And the country was founded financially on slavery and genocide as you say as well. But slavery, especially because it was this ongoing component that this ongoing part of the population. And then in a very large number.
David- And then after the civil war that began a 100-year reign of the KKK, which was the military arm of the Democratic Party. And people understand that as well the Democratic Party was the party of the white working class. It was a racist party at the core.
David- You had two choices as an American voter from the post-Civil War period through the 1960s. Your choices were between the party of racism and the party of capitalism.
Jeff- Yeah, exactly.
David- You had no other sensible options. You just had these two very bad choices. And then with the civil rights movement, if anything the violence against black people increased.
David- And since then, since the civil rights movement largely collapsed after the assassination of Martin Luther King. I think things got much worse, actually, for African-Americans and also for much of the rest of the population.
Jeff- Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Poor people, poor white people. And now the middle class and now the upper middle class.
David- Yeah, the nineteen seventies began the whole process of the outsourcing of American industry and the capitalist class becoming so much wealthier and the concentration of wealth in their hands so much greater through the vehicle of basically destroying the industrial base of the country and exporting industry with massive subsidies to China, Korea, the whole world. I mean, outrageously, China and Chinese leadership, Chinese workers get blamed for this outsourcing which is crazy.
Because this was, of course, every country has different parts and every country wants to have industry and wants to have a successful industrial base but China is not unique in that sense. That’s China’s just like every other country in that sense, except better organized. But this was an initiative of the capitalist class of the United States to increase profits. The outsourcing industry to places where workers get paid less. And the initial place where that was the first place where lots of industry was outsourced to, as far as I know, was Mexico.
Jeff- And then China.
David- It saw the fact of these free trade bills, starting with NAFTA and then continuing on.
Jeff- Thank you, Bill Clinton.
David- Yeah, thank you, Bill Clinton. That was one of the worst capitalist banksters we’ve ever been ruled by, who somehow has this completely undeserved reputation of some kind of…
Jeff- Some liberal.
David- Like black people. Yeah, ridiculous.
Jeff- Who bombed Serbia for ninety-nine days?
David- Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Jeff- Hey, listen, in the interest of time, you have so many wonderful historic songs. You just mentioned that you’re a reader of history and it’s pretty obvious, if we can maybe just kind of combine Egyptian Rag and The Landlord together, because they’re both about America and they both just show the brutal psychopathic nature of capitalism. The first, Egyptian Rag, I had no idea about this. Tell us about the Egyptian rag, what an amazing and sickening story.
David- It is just so crazy. And as far as I can tell, it’s just so little known about that’s the other part, which is just so I mean, the scale of this operation. So, in a nutshell, I was driving towards Moab, Utah, listening to community radio.
Jeff- It’s beautiful out there.
David- So gorgeous. And these two women who are both archeologists were being interviewed about something that was not related to Egypt, but they got into the subject to illustrate a point. And then I heard for the first time about this history and I looked into it. And what little information you can find is largely from a journalist in Maine.
But basically, and I don’t know if it’s completely proven beyond any doubt, it seems the overwhelming evidence would suggest that most of the rag paper, most of the rags in the 19th century backing up for a moment here. In the 19th century, paper was made out of rag-like pulp until 1900.
David- Yeah, you made it out of linen rag. You didn’t need any nice cloth. You just needed any kind of old rag. So, any kind of cloth. So that’s how paper was made until they perfected making it out of trees and then it became more commonly made out of wood. But so, rag was a huge industry in the 19th century. So, and of course, they’re always looking industrious, so they always looking for the cheapest sources for their input inputs into the process. So, the British were building a railway from Alexandria to Cairo in the eighteen fifties.
Jeff- Right along the Nile.
David- Yeah, maybe that’s true. I can’t say for sure because I’m not looking at a map. But every time they dug a hole and mostly, I guess I don’t think there was right along the Nile but actually it was more inland. But anyway, because part of the thing when I was reading about it, the thing they were saying was that basically most of the people in Egypt lived along for thousands of years, lived along the Nile River Valley. But when they would bury their dead, they would go out into the desert.
Jeff- Exactly. Yeah.
David- And so what you have out in the desert where they were building this railway was how many I don’t remember the number, but many, many millions of mummies.
Jeff- I think you said half a billion or something in your song.
David- Yeah, half a billion. Yeah, that’s right which is over the course of four thousand years people bury the dead.
Jeff- All right.
David- So they came across all these clothes and all these bodies basically. They were out in the desert of mummies.
David- Right. So, there was a whole industry employing Egyptian women and children to unwrap the mummies and send the mummy wrappings to the CH Paper Company based in the US state of Maine who were sent ships over to pick up shiploads of rag and bring them back to Maine a couple of times a year. So, yeah, that went on for the last half of the 19th century.
And it was just basically it’s been completely it was written out of the history books before it was ever written into that because there were only just a few references of response receipts that these rags were coming from what they called the tombs of Egypt on the official documents. So, yeah, but that’s how the people. So then you think of some of the cartoons that people if you grew up watching Disney or whatever you think of some of the mummy imagery in there.
And it’s interesting to me how I think there may be some kind of in the popular sort of, I don’t know, rumors or facts or imagination or whatever but basically, people on the paper room floor, on the middle room floor in the paper mills and names would throw down these rags. And sometimes because they’d been wrapped around a body for years.
Jeff- An arm or a leg or a skull would fall out.
David- Well, no, no. The rag would just spring into the shape of a body because it was shaped in that shape.
Jeff- Yeah, for 5 thousand years.
David- It was loose down and it was bringing to the table her body. And so, the workers were like, whoa, what is this? So, then the rumors got around of the suspicious nature of these rags.
Jeff- Well, and also to further support the story Mark Twain wrote in his book when he traveled in Europe that the British were burning mummies and trains to replace coal.
David- Yes. And there are other references to that practice of the British. What they were doing that was the mummies were made of basically soil and oil. So, they were preserved in oil. So, there was so much mummy oil that the British were using the oil to burn in the trains and the mummy soil they were using to fertilize their gardens.
David- But Mark Twain wrote about it and he thought what a crazy thing, but he said, well, it’s a crazy world, so it might be true. But actually, I don’t know if he actually knew, but it actually was as far as it very much appears to have been true.
Jeff- And then I read that the companies like Merck Pharmaceuticals were selling ground-up mummies as a drug.
David- Oh, yeah, that was a big thing. Yeah.
Jeff- Until 1910 and then they were making what used to be Egyptian brown dye. They were percolating these dead bodies in vats so that they could extract brown color. Can you imagine what white people in Europe would be thinking if the Chinese were doing this in Western cemeteries? I mean, can you imagine it?
David- Yeah, exactly.
Jeff- It’s just a shoe on the other foot. It’s just the racism and the dehumanization that’s just the psychopathic logic of capitalism. it’s just the way it works.
David- That’s the thing you are trying to turn around trying imagining the WTO protests of nineteen ninety-nine happening in Beijing. Try imagining the Chinese police tens of thousands of Chinese riot cops drowning the entire city in clouds of tear gas and just going out.
Jeff- Pepper spray.
David- Spraying pepper spray directly into people’s eyes. And it’s not this kind of thing is unique to the United States, but when if you take a scene like that and put it in Beijing or Havana or Moscow or other places that the US leadership doesn’t like it they would be the media here would be talking about the end of the regime.
Jeff- Exactly. And then again, listening to David’s songs is like not only listening to great music but learning a lot about history. And then there’s The Landlord about the land war in the eighteen hundreds, with Rensselaer. I had no idea we had feudalism in the United States.
David: I know. And this is another like, oh, this is the major thing in 19th-century history that is like has had such a massive impact on everybody in the world, certainly everybody in Europe and North America and lots of other countries for sure. Absolutely. But the eighteen forties, it’s another period that’s been it was written out of the US history books before it was ever written into them. It’s a big thing in Europe and people in Europe, learn about this stuff. If you go to school in Germany and you learn history, you’ll know a lot of dates about the eighteen forties because it was a major period.
In Europe, it was the period when a lot of countries got democracy for the first time where peasants got the right to own land where people got to vote for the first time, and where parliaments were set up and various democratic institutions were set up for the first time in many European countries in eighteen forty-nine.
And that was a response to the rebellions of 1848 when every monarchy in Europe with the exception of Russia and Britain was overthrown by a peasant rebellion. But the thing that is so unknown on either side of the Atlantic is that you had the same kind of feudal relationships here in the United States in terms of land ownership.
And you largely still do here. But you had all these tenant farmers who were basically they were peasants. In Europe, they would have called them peasants or serfs. Here we never called them that because you can’t have peasants. We call them tenant farmers. These were people that did not want any land and they rented their land from this big rich land renter and inherited it, and had been given the land.
His family was given it by the Dutch crown. And so, people rebelled against the conditions, against the landlord taking so much of their earnings every year for doing nothing but owning the land. And for nine years they refused to pay the rent. It was a very well-organized rent strike. If the council came to anybody’s farm people would blow on a tin horn and a thousand farmers on horseback would be there to defend that farmer from the police and drive them out.
For nine years, this went on. And it led very directly to the Homestead Act of 1862, which distributed land to millions of people. And of course, nowadays we see it the Homestead Act, largely from the perspective of like, OK, this was part of the process of the theft of this whole country from the Native people which is also true. But at the same time, the way the land was stolen had socialist overtones, if you can put it that way. If that makes sense.
Jeff- Of course.
David- The way that it was distributed, it was not just given to the rich which they could have done. And that’s what happened on the East Coast. They just gave the land to the rich when they first settled in the United States which later became the United States. But the West Coast, followed a different model because of the rent strike because they didn’t want their government to be overthrown by the teeming masses of impoverished tenant farmers like had happened in Europe.
Jeff- And you mentioned that the Rensselaer family, an old Dutch family, had the largest they had eighty thousand tenants, basically eighty thousand slaves and their fortune back then was 41 million, which in today’s dollars would be worth 90 billion dollars.
David- Yeah, that’s 88 million, I guess I rounded up.
Jeff- Yeah. Yeah. It’s just like the talk about the one percent versus the 99 percent. I mean it’s been there since the dawn of capitalism. It’s just unreal.
David- Absolutely. Are you hearing a high-pitched buzzing?
Jeff- No, I’m not. But let’s go on. I just looked down and the light of my microphone was off. And while you were just talking, I replaced the batteries. OK, we’ll see what happens. Let’s move on to another great historical song, Sugihara. This is about the Jewish diaspora. What an amazing story about this Japanese diplomat in Lithuania. Tell us about him.
David- It’s especially since the movie Schindler’s List, people know about Oskar Schindler. But what many people don’t realize unless their way into this stuff is that there were a whole lot of people from a whole lot of different countries that tried to play the same kind of role as Schindler and the Japanese Schindler was Sugihara and he had basically understood that basically what was going on like I guess the complete picture wasn’t there.
But it was very clear what Nazi Germany and France were doing with the Jewish people. And he had familiarity with the whole different aspects of European society and had lived there for quite a while. He understood the role that Jews played in society.
Jeff- This was in Lithuania.
David- Yeah, but he also lived in Poland and other countries. And he had lived in China, where he was based in Manchuria originally. And he criticized the Japanese Empire’s treatment of Chinese civilians which was why he was sent to Lithuania. And so, then he and his wife basically started spending 18 hours a day for a month writing visas completely against the orders of the Japanese empire. Giving out visas to European Jews, mostly Lithuanian and Polish Jews. And so, he and his wife facilitated the escape from Europe of six thousand Jews.
Jeff- Six thousand.
David- And they mostly spent the war years in Shanghai.
Jeff- Yeah, yeah. I read that they originally went to Kobe, Japan.
David- They transited through Kobe. Can you imagine six thousand Europeans transiting through Kobe during the war and not being noticed by Japanese authorities? I think that’s amazing. And I think it’s not evidence, but I think it points to the notion that the Japanese Empire never particularly cared about the Jewish question and never took seriously the whole idea that they should care about this thing. And if anything, they wanted more Jews in places that they controlled because they thought they believed the idea coming out of Germany that Jews were good at business and they thought that would be very helpful.
Jeff- Well, I guess after the liberation of China in 1949, I suspect most of them either went back to Europe or went back to Israel. I know there was a thriving Jewish community before 1949 in Shanghai because that was a kind of international port after Hong Kong, which was very British but Shanghai was very cosmopolitan and had a lot of foreigners. And I don’t know what happened but I have a very good friend, a researcher, a professor, and he’s written a couple of books and actually wrote a book about Pre-War Shanghai. And I’ll find out if he knows what happened to those 6000.
David- Well, a lot of them went to North America and a lot of them went to Palestine and Israel at that time by then and a lot of them went to various European countries. But the one that I first heard about it through my friend Ben Manski, whose grandfather, Samuel Manski was one of them.
Jeff- One of these guys. Oh, wow.
David- Yeah. Sugihara survivors, call them Sugihara. His route was basically going from Japan to Shanghai to Palestine and then eventually to Wisconsin, which is where I know my friend Ben from.
Jeff- Hey, David, I want to ask you, I love the fact I mean, you did an entire album about Palestine called Philistine Habibti, which in Arabic means Palestine, My Love. And you also have written some beautiful and eloquent stories about the Jewish diaspora. I just wanted to ask you, do you have any cognitive dissonance between the Jewish diaspora in World War Two and what is happening in Palestine? I mean, are you conflicted about that?
David- Yeah, I think if you were going, to sum up, the whole thing in two words cognitive dissonance is exactly what it is. Yeah, it’s just so crazy to grow up thinking and believing and learning about being Jewish and how that means at least in the sort of the way many people grow up Jewish, it certainly is in many countries. Anyway, I think maybe universally they grow up learning about this whole idea that we’re the underdogs and we are people that stick up for the oppressed and Jews were always very much part of supporting democratic movements in Europe.
Jeff- Yeah, exactly. And minorities and blacks.
David- Yeah and a lot of that is true. And there are all kinds of historical reasons why, like, say, for example, the Communist Party in the United States is so disproportionately Jewish.
Jeff- Yeah, Jewish. The Trotskyites.
David- Oh, yeah. I mean, the left in general. And also, left-wing songwriters, I might add. I mean there is a hell of a lot of left-wing Jews. And so, then all that history and also that left-wing reality, it just so much flies in the face of the policies of the country of Israel since its formation in 1948. It’s all since before its formation the way the Zionist movement was. And I mean, I think what it’s done to there’s just basically the Jewish diaspora related to the Holocaust in very different ways.
And for many people, the reaction was never again for anybody, and those people joined the left or rejoined the left. And for some people, many people, it meant never again to us. And who cares about anybody else? And that has always been a part of the Jewish tribal thing. I mean, there has always been and this is certainly not unique to Jews, but lots of different sort of ethnic groups around the world tend to see themselves as better than anybody else.
And that is definitely true of many Jews, and that’s been part of the Jewish religious dogma forever as far as I know this whole idea of the chosen people. So, yeah, there’s a hell of a lot of cognitive dissonance in the whole question of being Jewish and in the question of how you reconcile the Holocaust with.
Jeff- With the Holocaust in Palestine.
David- Yeah, with the policies of Israel, which are not the same in terms of rounding everybody up and putting them in gas chambers. I mean, there’s definitely a serious distinction to be made there. But when they call Gaza a concentration camp, I think that’s really not that you’re not leveling with.
Jeff- I loved it when you actually said that. I always called it the largest open-air prison, but it’s the same thing.
David- Yeah, same thing. But it’s maybe more accurate to say that prison because people associate concentration camps with death camps and there were actually different forms of concentration camps, not and it is much like a concentration camp, but it is not a death camp in the sense of mechanized killing of the entire population.
But still not allowing them to eat enough food. It certainly is bombing them. I mean, it’s a slow death. They know that all the water is salt water. They have no capacity to create clean water. What they’re doing is so illegal and so immoral and so deadly and it is a slow death. It might as well be gas chambers.
Jeff- I’m very conflicted. In my first book, 44 Days, even though it’s about China, I did a lot of reflection back. It caused me to, it was beginning basically… you became much more aware of the truth earlier in your life than I did. It took me until I was about 55 to start catching on. But I wrote in there because I was researching the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution and it occurred to me how bad the creation of Israel long-term will be for the Jewish people because it’s going to come back to haunt them.
And I wrote that the gates of Jerusalem have changed hands 44 times and its 5,000-year history and it will surely change for the forty-fifth time. And right now, Israel and its genocidal war crimes and crimes against humanity, to me, it’s a litmus test for the survival of the human race.
If we can sit back and allow what they are doing to their neighbors to happen, to me, it’s sort of like I don’t think the human race has as much of a chance to survive long term and you even have a great song. What is it, David, where you talk about the Super Bowl and the starvation and then you juxtapose these positions, these images of eating and drinking and having a good time in the West with all these horrific images?
I forgot the name of the song, but that’s it. It’s out of sight and it’s out of mind and we don’t care. And but if that is allowed to go on and France and Great Britain and the United States can keep vetoing censors in the United Nations in the Security Council to protect Israel, for me it’s a sort of the canary in the gold mine for everything is wrong with the human race.
David- Yeah, absolutely. I mean, really sums up a lot. And it just makes a mockery of anything that the Western countries ever say about anyone or any other countries practices, because as long as the West and it’s of course not just the United States but most European countries are supporting Israel and in all kinds of ways. And as long as that continues then none of these countries, I mean there are other reasons. But that’s one very major reason why none of these countries’ leadership can have any moral ground to stand on at all when they’re criticizing anybody else.
Jeff- Absolutely. David, did you ever on the Al Jazeera website? Did you ever watch the documentary they did called Al Nakba?
David- I’m not sure.
Jeff- OK, well, for this show on my website, I will put that link (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2021/05/19/the-real-truth-about-palestine-and-israel-its-called-genocide-and-extermination-china-rising-radio-sinoland-210519/). They did a 200-minute documentary on Al Nakba, basically the creation of Israel and the genocide of the Palestinians. And it’s really, really, really outstanding. And what I kept looking at when I was watching this is I saw the images and film footage of the Palestinians and the Israelis.
And I was thinking like you know what these images look exactly like the images of the Nazis and the Jews in Europe in World War Two except now the Nazis have been replaced by the Jews and the Palestinians have replaced the Jews. The images of these gates and the ghettos and the borders and the camps and it’s like, it’s just bizarre.
David- It’s so bizarre. And all the songs you mentioned at one point and email the song, my song, what do you call it?
Jeff- Oh, what kind of country.
David- This whole song what do you call it I’m just basically talking about I don’t name the country or what I’m talking about, but in the song, it’s all stuff that is both true of Nazi Germany and of contemporary Israel.
Jeff- Tattooing numbers on their arms. That’s what the Nazis did.
David- Yeah, they did it. That was a brief period during the Israeli occupation of the West Bank when they actually were writing numbers. I don’t think they weren’t actually doing it in Israel, but they were using indelible markers to write numbers on the wrists of Palestinians that they were detaining.
David- And this is obviously like they could have picked any part of the body. I mean, this is obviously a convenient aspect to the rest because it’s easy to get and whatever. But there are so many things like that that happen in the course of the Israeli occupation. I mean, the fact is that if you’re going to occupy a country and subjugate a country’s people, there are going to be a lot of things that you do that are going to be very similar to what other occupying powers do.
David- So it’s going to be really basically tough if you’re going to be afraid of people making these parallels as well, you’re going to look a lot like one dictator looks a lot like another.
Jeff- Yeah, exactly. Hey, listen, let’s cover one more song. And I think you have a background in Judaism. I have a background in Irishism. My father was 100 percent Irish from Cork, Kerry, Counties. And in fact, my ancestors came over during the Great Potato Famine, which my father rightfully called a genocide.
David- My great-great-grandfather was a potato famine refugee.
David- My ancestors are Irish, English, Russian and Hungarian.
Jeff- Oh, wow. Anyway, you have some wonderful songs about Ireland. And again, another truth about history that has just been expunged from the West’s books is that England brutally and murderously enslaved Ireland for 800 years. It was basically the test tube for their colonial rampage through Africa and Asia. They colonized them for 800 years. And a lot of people don’t know this, but the Great Potato Famine was entirely legislated, entirely preventable. And the liberal opposition, the famous William Gladstone, who actually was prime minister.
The Liberal prime minister at the time said that it was the law that they passed to continue exporting food while these people were starving, you know, would be a law that would live in infamy. And so anyway, I just love the fact that you have this great song up to propose about Comandante Francis Hughes. Again, I’d heard about Bobby Sands, but I’d never heard about Francis Hughes. How do you find out about him?
David- Well, basically, I guess the first time I went to Belfast was a group called Friends of Guantanamo, I think it was called friends of the prisoners. They’re not a people. And almost all the people I was hanging out with on that first trip were ex-prisoners from British prisons who were all members of the IRA.
Jeff- Oh my God, really?
David- And so, I got to be around for the meeting when Moazzam Begg made his first trip to Ireland and met ex-prisoners from the IRA for the first time. And it was a fascinating and powerful and beautiful thing to be around. It’s so interesting too because Moazzam is a wonderful man. He grew up in Birmingham and he has an English accent he had an English education and he had a very English view of Ireland.
So, it was so interesting to be hanging out with a guy who had just gotten out of several years in Guantanamo. And what was it’s so essentially an Englishman, I said this guy you sound so English when you’re talking about Ireland. And he said, well, I am English which is obviously true. But what a different bunch of experiences he’s had in his life. But, yeah, they referred to each other as the hooded men. And there was just an immediate affinity between the Irish guys and Moazzam. And I met a lot of them.
Jeff- Yeah, that was quite a different experience (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2021/08/29/yousef-m-aljamal-discusses-the-amazing-nexus-between-the-irish-and-palestinian-struggles-for-liberation-in-his-and-norma-hashims-new-book-a-shared-struggle-stories-of-palestinian-and-ir/).
David- Yeah, I kept in touch with a lot of folks in Belfast after that. And a lot of them were imprisoned for long periods of time. Francis, and other folks turned me on to a book and I read the book and wrote the song. The book was written by an English journalist, called Ten Men Dead, and it was about the nineteen eighty-one hunger strike.
Jeff- Hunger strike.
David- Yeah. And Bobby Sands was the most well-known hunger striker, the first to die, and the one that the Sinn Fein decided to run for parliament. And he and his people may not win the race for parliament, while in prison that’s really making a mockery of the whole idea that the IRA did not have popular support. if they didn’t have popular support, he will not win. I mean, while in prison.
But yeah, Francis Hughes was the second hunger striker to die and was really well known basically for his military prowess and really not well known for being a man of words. He was not a man of words. He said very little. And the main three words he was most known for saying were “Up to Provos”. And his main three words in the most impossible circumstances imaginable. Well, with a shattered leg after that, they were nearly killed by the British army as British soldiers are carrying him onto a stretcher in a painful way. And then to make matters worse, he said, “Up the Provos”.
Jeff- Which is sort of like, yes, fuck you.
David- Yeah, that’s a man with character.
Jeff- That’s amazing. Well, David, on that note, I did want to ask you about one other and maybe a personal one you don’t want to answer. But, I was exercising. I walk up and down stairs as part of my exercise routine. When the first time I heard “Joseph”, listened to this song and all of a sudden, I’m like and it was like St Patrick’s Day on Tiananmen Square, I about fell down the stairs. And I was like, what the heck is this, but you haven’t been here.
David- No, it was so that song was basically a friend of mine from Chicago who was saying that he was talking about how he met his wife Jody, who is in love with for a very long time. And she’s Chinese and he’s an Irish Chicago guy. So, he was telling me the story about how they met and how much she meant to him. And he was telling me the story about how when they went to China to visit her home and her relatives and stuff, it was on St. Patrick’s Day. And being an Irish guy in China so on St. Patrick’s Day, they both put on green hats.
Jeff- And went out in Tiananmen Square.
David- And so then all kinds of people kept on coming up to them and asking them, what’s up with the green hats? And then they would say it’s St. Patrick’s Day. Some people are suspicious that they might be like organizing a protest.
Jeff- That’s funny. Oh, that’s great. Well, I live here. I mean, I can hop in a taxi and be down at Tiananmen Square in about 30 minutes. But that’s a great song and it’s a beautiful, really beautiful song. Some of your human-interest songs are just really, really beautiful. Well, anyway, listen, David, this has been a wonderful, wonderful interview. I have never had so many technical difficulties in my life. I hope my battery lasted until I changed it while you were talking.
It’s really easy. His site is www.davidrovics.com. That’s a great place to get started getting to know him. He has a SoundCloud account. I actually got his catalog. I support independent writers and independent musicians. I paid 60 bucks for your entire catalog. And I think it comes out like five dollars an album, but you can listen to David’s music for free on SoundCloud.
And hopefully, you’ll be tempted to, because he does have a wife and two kids and he’s got to feed the family. And so hopefully maybe you buy an album or two. His SoundCloud account is just David Rovics again. He also has a, I don’t know who did your Wikipedia page, but I’m jealous, really.
David- I don’t know. I mean there’s been a lot of different people already if you check over the years, it’s changed.
Jeff- Somebody has done an incredibly good job on your Wikipedia page. So, I will post all of these links for this interview on China Rising. And David, it’s really great to have you on the show. Thank you so much. And I’ll email you about the Industrial Workers of the World. I have two passports, French and American. And I just recently joined the Communist Party of France. I wished to become a member of the Communist Party of France, as a way to express my outrage at what’s going on in the world.
David- Yeah. Oh, man. And they’re great. And they’re doing a lot of great stuff these days too men in France.
Jeff- So anyway, I haven’t started paying dues yet, because I need to find out their position on China because amazingly a lot of these socialist and communist parties around the world are actually against China. And obviously, I cannot do that morally, because China is doing a great job. But anyway, so good to have you on.
Again, I encourage everybody to listen to David’s music and then hopefully buy some of his music to support his musical career. This is Jeff J. Brown in beautiful Beijing. My website is www.Chinarising.Puntopress.com. And I encourage everybody to take a look at that. I do a lot of writing and interviewing about China, and looking at the world from a fresh perspective. Thanks a lot, David, and I’ll let you know as soon as this is up and running so you can promote it.
Jeff- Take care, David.
David- Thanks so much, Jeff. Take care.
Jeff- Bye, bye.
David- Bye, bye.
Do yourself, your friends, family and colleagues a favor, to make sure all of you are Sino-smart:
Google ebooks (Epub) and audiobooks:
44 Days Backpacking in China: The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=YBKHEAAAQBAJ
China Rising: Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=YNmLEAAAQBAJ
BIG Red Book on China: Chinese History, Culture and Revolution
Amazon print and ebooks (Kindle):
44 Days Backpacking in China: The Middle Kingdom in the 21st Century, with the United States, Europe and the Fate of the World in Its Looking Glass
China Rising: Capitalist Roads, Socialist Destinations
BIG Red Book on China: Chinese History, Culture and Revolution
Praise for The China Trilogy:
Why and How China works: With a Mirror to Our Own History
Read it in your language • Lealo en su idioma • Lisez-le dans votre langue • Lies es in deniner Sprache • Прочитайте это на вашем языке • 用你的语言阅读
Wechat group: search the phone number +8619806711824 or my ID, Mr_Professor_Brown, friend request and ask Jeff to join the China Rising Radio Sinoland Wechat group. He will add you as a member, so you can join in the ongoing discussion.