Agit Disco 17 by Micheline Mason
My selection of songs are not necessarily the greatest political songs I have ever heard, but they are the songs which came into my life at various stages and made an impact on me personally. I cannot imagine living without music and without songs like these. The singers and songwriters were my teachers, leaders, comrades and healers. They drew me into a wider world to which I had little access at times when I really needed to feel connected to other minds like mine. I will be eternally grateful.
Pete Seeger – Little Boxes (1963)
I was very young when I first heard this on the radio, about nine I think. I really liked it but I didn’t listen to the words properly or understand it. I thought it was something about Council Houses. I heard it differently when I was older when I realised it was about the nature of classism and how it creates such mind numbing conformity, especially on the middle classes, and then I liked it even more. Although it was about America, we are not so different here. It still seems quite funny and rude.
Peter Paul and Mary – There But for Fortune (1983 – Ochs 1963)
A beautiful song and it made me think about being a disabled person and how anyone could become one at any time. But really I think the song is about not standing in judgement over people whose lives are a mess because you never know what has happened to them, or are free from the possibility that it could have been you. I agreed with that.
Tom Paxton – Jimmy Newman (1988)
Tom Paxton was a favourite of mine in the 60’s and this song said something to me very powerful about war, death and people losing their friends. Maybe it made such an impression on me because it was set in a hospital while the men were waiting to be sent home from Vietnam to recover from their injuries. I could identify with it somehow. It felt very real and very sad.
Bob Dylan – A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall (1962)
I first heard Bob Dylan listening to Radio Caroline on a tiny transistor radio in bed at night when I was supposed to be asleep. I was just into my teens I think. I was electrified by his voice and his songs. They seemed very different to anyone else I had heard. I liked him because he was telling me that I wasn’t the only one who thought the world was a screwed up and unjust place. I loved this song. Dylan wrote it at the height of the Cuba Missile Crisis when the possibility of a nuclear holocaust seemed alarmingly real. Although I didn’t really understand much of the imagery, (nor did he apparently), he seemed to be saying that something was very wrong out there and if we didn’t heed the warnings then we were in for hard times. I particularly liked the last verse about going back out before the rain starts falling, and telling people what he had seen. I like to think that I have done that.
Bob Dylan – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol (1964)
This song stuck in my mind for years because of the last line. It is based on a true story I believe about a rich man who murdered one of his servants. Dylan said that the thing which really deserves our tears was not the act of murder itself, but the fact that he got away with it because of his privileged position in society. I was still young and learning about the depth of the inequality between people based on the class ridden society. This song helped solidify my own emerging understanding.
Peggy Seeger – I’m Gonna Be an Engineer (1973)
I thought this song was funny and it arrived in my life as I was making my first contact with the women’s movement and getting an understanding of the role of sexism in our lives. I just loved the line “Dainty as a dishrag, faithful as a chow”. Laughter is just as liberating as tears and anger. Thank you Peggy.
Melanie Safka – Look What They’ve Done to My Song (1971)
I liked Melanie very much ever since hearing the Roller Skate song. She seemed a bit eccentric and unique. This song is one she wrote after becoming very famous and finding that fame, and the commercialisation of her music, difficult to handle. She seemed to fade out of the limelight soon after this song came out, but I always loved it. At the end, as she did in many songs, she goes loud and over the top and it always made me smile.
Diane Coleman – We Will Ride (1994)
There are very few songs written about the oppression of disabled people and I do not think any have been produced commercially, with the possible exception of ‘Spasticus Autisticus’ by Ian Drury, but I didn’t like that at the time. I was too riddled with internalised oppression to want to be associated with those words I had spent a lifetime running away from. This of course was the whole point of the song, but I wasn’t ready for it. (
“We will Ride” was written to be sung during the many direct actions taken by disabled people in the USA and later in the UK about the inaccessibility of public transport, especially to wheelchair users. We felt that it was not enough that we had escaped from the long-stay institutions into out own homes in the ‘community’ if once there we could not go out or get to places. Not all of us could drive so access to public transport was vital if we were to be part of ordinary life. We chained ourselves to buses and trains, got arrested and sometimes hurt. It has been a partly successful battle however, because much of our public transport system must now be accessible, but we still need to sing the song.
Roy Bailey – Song of the Exile (1992)
One of the most beautiful and hopeful anti-war songs I have heard. I only got switched on to Roy Bailey in the last few years, mostly I believe because folk clubs and festivals have only started to become accessible to me as a wheelchair user in the last few years. Most of my formative years I was a ‘Radio/TV Dependent Person’, and that is why so much of the music which influenced me was from the USA, I now realise.
Diane Coleman – Free Our People (1994)
A great song about the history of exclusion and imprisonment of disabled people. As this story is still often hidden from the public eye, I use this song in training courses to bring alive to people the struggle that disabled people have made, in solidarity with each other and our allies, to build a better world. My favourite line which still brings a tear is “How many gifted people are caged against their will?”. (Both songs are from a CD called ‘Stolen Lives’ available from http://www.adapt.org/cdoffer.htm)
Willy Mason – Oxygen (2004)
I was stunned by this song which I heard about two years ago when Willy Mason was only nineteen. Many young adults are struggling to find the way to a purposeful life in the modern world. He captures so much of their sadness and disillusionment, but also the hope that they can find a way. I liked the line about wanting to be ‘louder than Ritalin for all the kids who think they have got a disease’. Wow. My daughter loves it too.
Pete Seeger – And I’m Still Searching (1997)
Pete Seeger is now 89 and still singing. I think this little song and accompanying music is exquisite and says it all for me.