DID YOU KNOW IT WAS A ‘RED’ WHO WROTE “BROTHER CAN YOU SPARE ME A DIME?” WELL, NOT SO SUPRISING, MAYBE. BUT HOW ABOUT THE SONGS FOR “THE WIZARD OF OZ” and “FINIAN’S RAINBOW”?
Yip Harburg, born in the poor Lower East Side Manhattan to Russian Ashkenazi Jew migrants, was a socialist and the writer of the lyrics of the songs in The Wizard of Oz and worked on the music too. In fact, a lot of the production team and actors were “pinkos” of some kind, including Judy Garland. The “Brother Can You ..” melody was based on a Russian lullaby. In this Amy Goodman interview on Democracy Now TV (see link bottom of piece), Yip’s son Ernie Harburg talks about his father and included is quite a bit of footage of Yip himself, talking and singing, as well as footage of the first Wizard of Oz film.
When some people think it appropriate, while supporting the Palestinians, to synonymise the words “Jew” and “Israeli”, confusing the ethnic grouping of Jews with the fascist, racist and colonist ideology of Zionism, they are ignorant of or forget not only those Jews who combat Zionism today like Finkelstein and Chomsky but also the public criticisms of Zionism and the creation or actions of the state of Israel expressed by Albert Einstein, authors Erich Fromm, Howard Zinn, Isaac Asimov, Philip Roth, I.F. Stone; violinist Yehudi Menuhin; journalists Joe Klein (Time magazine), Roger Cohen (NY Times); Richard Falk (UN Special Rapporteur), historian Gabriel Kolko and many, many others. Those Jews are following a tradition: political and religious dissidence was endemic in Western Jewry and Jews have been to the forefront in socialist movements in Europe and in the USA, as well as in the struggles against racism and for civil rights in the latter.
“Music makes you feel; words make you think; songs make you feel the thoughts,” said Yip Warburg. At the time of the Depression in the USA (caused by the financiers, surprise, surprise), with massive unemployment and poverty, the authorities and some of the public wanted songs like “Happy Times Are Here Again” and no-one was writing songs about the suffering except for his father, says Yip’s son Ernie Harburg. Not on Broadway, maybe, but in some speakeasies, in some bars and on some radio shows, the blues and folk singers were composing and singing those songs, some writers like Steinbeck were writing their stories and photographers like Dorothea Lange, Jack Delano, Gordon Parks and others were recording their faces.
People were out on the streets and picket lines too, shouting, marching, holding placards, getting their heads busted by cops and sherrifs and goons and breaking some of their heads back too. Sometimes the protesters and campaigners were shot and sometimes even executed. As the financiers swing us around to those times again, we celebrate the victories and learn from the defeats, take pride in the courage of all those who fought and mourn those who fell, whether they fought against the police and municipal authorities, the witch-hunters like McCarthy and the ignorant red-haters, the National Guard, the FBI …
And we singers, singing the lyrics and melodies of others and of our own, written in the past or in the present, give honour to the fighters in whole periods of struggle even as, in the book of history, the first lines in the next chapter are being written.