"There's a White House war machine, the one Wilson switched on, waited long enough and joined the side that won..."
Thus begins my damning chronicle of the presidential lineage of America's twentieth century. The song was supposed to be specifically about Harry Truman, Missouri's only contribution to the whole mess, but I got carried away by history. I found I couldn't write about the president out of context. It would be like trying to write the biography of Mr. Punch without referring to his beating of Judy and the conquering of his various foes, not to mention his status as puppet under the control of another's story-line.
The process started with the title. I often come up with that before the lyrics are finished, as a guiding inspiration and to keep things focused. Ten or twelve years ago I discovered The Louvin Brothers and their Christian-flavored bluegrass, such as the album "Satan Is Real". Their song "That Great Atomic Power" struck me as an anomaly in their repertoire. They were talking about Jesus again but they were relating it to this political issue at hand.
About the same time, I began reading Howard Zinn's "A People's History of The United States" and began a lengthy list of near verses noting the history of atrocity that was American politics of the twentieth century. It had to be pared down, so I focused on what led to Truman's appointment and the Fifties culture that followed his epoch, all the while keeping a watchful eye on that looming nuclear presence.
Then, my Bad Folk bandmate Joey Gavin and I were playing one day and we started in on "White House Blues", played by many old time musicians including Charlie Poole on the Anthology of American Folk Music. How could I have not thought of ripping off that chord progression for this particular song's purpose?
As we enter another election year, I join many in their disappointment with Barack Obama's term. The second George Bush dragged this song's relevance into this twenty-first century and the current man has also neglected to cut his puppet strings, tying him to this shameful history as well.
"Truman" or "#33"
There's a White House War machine, the one Wilson switched on, waited long enough and joined the side that won. Roosevelt was dying, they had to find a man who would keep things running just like they planned. Henry Wallace said what he really thought and there's no room for that, no chance for that to move up in Washington.
When Roosevelt died, they had Truman move in, left all the furniture exactly how it had been. "Show me" a man who would seem to take a stand, got the White House blues all across this land. MacArthur covers a whole nation's eyes and he waits for William Laurence to come claim his prize, Hiroshima to Washington. That great atomic power, scared Charlie Louvin, scared him more than God.
Drop the little boy and the fat man, now you got the whole world with the Marshall Plan. The doctrines were in order, they just needed a name, almost any other man, it would have been the same, it's a shame in Washington. Now you have to close your eyes to deny the rumors, the working class, we're all consumers. Truman left the White House, his job was done, left all the furniture for the next one, Eisenhauer to Washington. The Rosenbergs were still in prison, going to the chair, now there's a new man in the White House, it doesn't change a thing, in Washington. Because that great atomic power, scared Charlie Louvin, scared him more than God.
J Mascis at The Way Out Club (in progress)
6 months ago