By The Landlord
Immigrants eh? Coming over 'ere with their education, qualifications, and skills, and languages, and exotic good looks, and tasty foods, fancy music, processions and costumes, and willingness to do shit jobs on low pay that we don't want to. Who do they think they are?
But first, though, a tough and tragic tale. He was born in the small town of Kallstadt in 1869. He was in a religious minority, a Lutheran family in a Catholic area that at the time was in the Kingdom of Bavaria that soon became part of the German empire. The area was poor, young Frederick’s father had been sick for several years, and then died when he was only eight, leaving the family in severe debt. In 1883, when he was 14, Frederick’s mother sent him to another town, Frankenthal, to become a barber’s apprentice. He had to grow up fast. After two years he returned to Kallstadt, and now 16, he was approaching the age of eligibility to be conscripted in the Imperial German Army. Frederick didn't fancy that, so then rather quickly decided it was time to leave. He departed secretly at night, leaving his mother a note, and from Bremen, boarded the steamship Eider, which sailed to New York City.
The bright lights of the big city beckoned. He was only 16, and life was tough at first. However, he found work as a barber in Lower Manhattan and worked there for six years. He then moved to Seattle, and, with his savings, bought a run-down restaurant in the red light district. By hook or by crook he also dabbled in the Yukon gold rush, and gradually opened further restaurants and a hotel.
He returned to Germany in 1901, by then a rich man, supported by all of his US investments, and then met and married a woman named Elizabeth Christ. After another trip to New York, they planned to settle back in Germany permanently. But there was a problem. German authorities had decided to revoke his citizenship. He was a draft dodger. So he quickly decided to move back to America. It was a close shave. So in New York he opened up a barber shop, and then his wife had more children, two sons. He bought more real estate and continued to prosper in his new homeland until his death in 1918. He was an immigrant success story. He had lived the American dream.
His first son, Fred, born in New York, in turn, benefited from his father’s fortune, and continued to invest in real estate, profited massively from the second world war, not by fighting in it, but through building barracks, and by then denied his German heritage. He also built massive housing projects all around New York. Jews, Italians and other immigrants ended up in his Brooklyn slums and other housing around New York, creating "racial postcodes". Among them was a tenant called Woody Guthrie, at the Brooklyn Beach Haven estate, who accused his landlord of stirring up racial hate "in the bloodpot of human hearts”. Woody might have had something there. As thousands moved into his decrepit homes, fleeing Holocaust, war, poverty or just hoping for a better life, Fred was also known, among many other controversies, financial and otherwise, to have become involved in the Ku Klux Klan. Fred made millions from the desperate plight of immigrants.
And Fred, in turn, married another immigrant, and they had five children, and one son, in particular, inherited and had access to millions of dollars, but his own businesses became bankrupt six times, but he still managed to get bailed out by his dad, but even more so from the struggling worker, the taxpayer, because he gained massive tax-cut benefits on his building projects.
That man is now Donald J Trump, president of the United States of America, married three times, twice to immigrants, massively rich on real estate, hotel and casinos, a TV ‘personality’, a media manipulator, a living breathing tabloid, a bigot, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, a conman, bloodsucking lump of hate-filled lying puke, a blocker and hater of Muslims, Mexicans and anyone who disagrees with his white, rich, supremacist, money-grabbing, narcissistic, climate-change denying world-destroying ways. I think that's a bit of an understatement. But also, he is the result of true immigrant success. The American dream. The tale is tough and tragic, not for his family, but for the rest of us. Ban immigration? Only if they turn out like the Trumps.
That's a theme you'll hear played out a lot, and for good reason, but really we're all about the music. This week we look at songs about immigration, whether that is stories about seeking a fortune, a new life, or to escape poverty, war or torture as an refugee seeking asylum. So many songs will be filled with remarkable narratives, of yearning, adventure, love, tragic, loss and hope, and will all depict the human spirit, at its bravest, and also its most cruel, and with it, the shame of countries and communities who have turned away those in greatest need.
Why this week? Our topic is particularly fuelled by the current president alongside his adviser Steve Bannon, placing a ban on Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the US. This has left family members isolated and chaos at airports, and the sacking of the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, for defying this absurd policy. The excuse? Terrorism and keeping out "bad dudes". But clearly there's something else going on here. Perpetrators of terrorist attacks in the US have come from Egypt, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and above all, particularly where 9/11 is concerned from Saudi Arabia. Why no ban for any travelling from those countries? Vested interests? And the move hides something deeper going, a testing of the parameters of democracy, and it is feared, preparations to take over at a far deeper level. Getting elected is only the start.
The world is currently, and for some time now, in an immigration crisis, millions fleeing from Syria and other countries from war, torture, poverty and displacement, packed boats washing up on the shores of Greece and Italy and elsewhere. Perhaps one of the most moving depictions of such desperation has come in the film In This World, a 2002 feature film about two young Afghan refugees, a heartbreaking tale of endurance and tragedy.
But in some ways, this is nothing new. Voluntarily or otherwise, probably for equally desperate reasons, Homo sapiens originally began to migrate around Africa around 150,000 years ago, left the continent 70,000 years ago, spread across Europe, Asia and Australia over the next 30,000 years and then the Americas around 20,000 years ago. Mass migrations come in waves, from the Greek expansions around 750 BC to the massive Indo-Asian movement in the Middle Ages, to the huge industry-driven movements from 1850 onwards. And Britain? For centuries it's been full of Celts, Germans, French, Roman and and other blood. And since the 1950s, now it is African and Asian too. As John Lydon puts it: "Britain's an island; it's always had a constant ebb and flow of immigration – it makes it a better place." And it has brought it great music.
But for a proper bit of history, let's enjoy a blast of one of the driest and funniest comedians around, Stewart Lee, here taking a pot at the now Ukip leader Paul Nuttall.
As Michael Franti puts it, of America: "We are all immigrants. Our country was founded on immigration. We are all occupying Native American land here. At what point do we say 'It's our land, and nobody else can come here?'"
So to end, here are a couple of songs. The first one to come to mind may be Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song. But while this has already been chosen for another topic, this wonderful rock classic isn't really about immigration at all. It was written when the band were on tour in 1970 and their gig in Iceland was almost cancelled due to a civil service strike until Reykjavik university students managed to get them a venue. It's an affectionate tribute to Norse mythology and spirit and their visit.
And so then, you immigrants from Asia, Africa, Mexico, Europe, the West Indies and elsewhere. What have you got to offer?
Getting the job done for us this week can be none better than our very own Canadian/ Dutch/ Scottish (?) immigration officer, the wonderful Marconius, who will stamp your papers and sort out your musical credentials with a welcoming smile. Deadline for entry? Monday night 11pm UK time, for Marco's lists published next Wednesday. Beware all ye who enter these Song Bar borders. You are about to have a seriously good time.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.