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Origins: Talking Rent Blues

28 Mar 03 - 04:43 PM (#920767)
Subject: Origins: Talking Rent Blues
From: Charley Noble

A continuing mystery in my draft Housing Songbook is where this talking blues came from. The source "talking blues" is clearer, probably "Talking Union" by the Almanac Singers in the early 1940's. Now I did run across an album by Pat Foster and Dick Weissman, Documentary Talking Blues (Counterpoint/Esoteric Records M-550), which had an abbreviated version of the same song but again no reference in their notes to who wrote it. This is one of my favorite tenant organizing songs, laying out as it does the thinking and tactics that go into putting together a successful rent strike. The words below were clipped out of a Boston area tenants publication in the late 1970's.

Oh, and Pete Seeger claims he didn't write it.

Anon
Tune: traditional "Talking Blues If You Want to Get to Heaven"

TALKING RENT BLUES


Now if you want to keep your rent down
There's just one thing to do,
Gotta talk to the folks in the building with you;
Gotta build you a union and make it strong;
If you all stick together, well, it won't be long –
You get lower rents, better living conditions,
And if you decide to leave, your security deposit.

Now it won't be easy, but it's gotta be done,
Visit all the tenants one by one;
Invite all your neighbors over for tea,
When you talk about rents, they'll all agree,
Yep, there's all for it...

Better living conditions are your right,
Running hot water with heat all night;
Ridding those pests, those roaches and rats,
Sealing old windows and stuff like that...

But to solve those problems, ya gotta fight it;
Gotta talk it over and stand united;
"He" won't listen when one of you squawks,
But he's gotta listen when the union talks;
He'd better, or be mighty lonely come rent day.

Your absentee landlord has no ears,
Just a name on a billhead, out-of-town profiteer;
He'll pass on to the tenants all his expenses,
Taxes and inflation, and fuel adjustments,
Damn bureaucrats...

He'll croon his tune that he's goin' broke,
And we all know that outrageous joke,
He'll use your rent for a car or yacht,
No, he don't give a damn if you got a pot
To cook in...

Now your roof falls in and your pipes get stuck,
You might start thinkin' you're plumb outta luck;
Especially when you're down to your last buck,
But you can always start singing "Repair and Deduct"
Money talks, money swears...

There's just one thing to bear in mind,
Gotta keep your vigilance all the time;
Outta town slumlords got no respect,
They pass on expenses and keep you in debt;
All of which, I guess, just goes to show
The biggest robberies are made with a fountain pen, you know...

But out in New York City, here's what we find,
And out in Boston, here's what we find,
And out in San Francisco, here's what we find,
And out in Detroit City, here's what we find:
That if you don't let red-baiting break you up,
If you don't let stool pigeons break you up,
If you don't let legal harassment break you up,
And if you work like Hell and stand united,
You'll win – what I mean is take it easy,
But take it!

Cordially,
Landlady's Daughter, who needs another piece of pie


23 Jan 11 - 03:56 PM (#3080898)
Subject: RE: Origins: Talking Rent Blues
From: Charley Noble

Refresh!

Never did find out who composed this talking rent blues. It has now been digitally remastered and is available from a variety of commercial sources.

Charley Noble


23 Jan 11 - 06:57 PM (#3081036)
Subject: RE: Origins: Talking Rent Blues
From: Charley Noble

Here's a little more information about where I found this song. It's from The Newspaper, Greater Boston area, January 28, 1976, p. 9, credited to "Banjo Pete" with a little banjo logo, which is why I assumed Pete Seeger composed it. But in his correspondence with me, circa 1982, he was quite emphatic that he was not the composer and was not familiar with who did compose it.

Oh, and I just found a review of DOCUMENTARY TALKING BLUES which dates the recording to around 1959.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble