Protest Song of the Day: ‘Ninety-Mile Wind’ by Arlo Guthrie & Wenzel
Hurricane Sandy, as one might be aware, is hitting the northeast coast of the United States today. So, how about a song that uses a storm or wind as metaphor to make a social comment on the world?
Legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie wrote in the 1940s a song called “Ninety-Mile Wind.” It was a metaphor for the fight against fascism happening in the world against the forces of Hitler and even the struggle that unions would continue to wage against capitalist forces of which Guthrie thought President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was too accommodating toward.
In the song, Guthrie is walking on the Coney Island boardwalk in New York City. The Great Atlantic Hurricane is hitting New York.
The wind does come, he sings. It was a high blowing wind but the city was rougher than that wind.
This town has stood up in the face of things
Lots worse than a ninety mile wind
It’s not bad storms I’m afraid of today
But the greed that our leaders walk in.
He can feel and hear a “ninety-mile gale” and the ocean “mourn and groan.” But, he finds, “This is just an echo of our world wide storm/That’s ripping away our balls and our chains.”
The men on Coney Island are holding down the rides and trying to keep them from blowing away. Guthrie comments, “I sometimes wonder what we do between blows.” As in, there are always storms but often after storms the people fall back into a state of complacency allowing another storm to hit once again.
Guthrie had not been a supporter of US military intervention when Hitler’s power was growing, but, when he joined the crew of the US Merchant Marine, his attitude changed as he decided World War II was savage but necessary because music and entertainment had distracted people from the rise of fascism in the mid-1930s. The forces behind Hitler needed to have been confronted in Europe much earlier than the 1940s.
This version of Guthrie’s song is by Arlo Guthrie, his son, and Hans Eckhardt Wenzel, a German cabaret star who was chosen by Woody’s daughter, Nora, to record some of Woody’s music. The first part of the song is in English and then the rest of the song is in German.
The Dissenter will be putting one of these up every weekday morning. If you have requests for songs that should be featured or if you have a protest song you recorded, which you would like to see featured, email email@example.com.
And all previous Protest Song of the Day selections can be found here.