1851 (Allons Enfants)

from No Fortunes by Jon Patton

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I've been reading Umberto Eco's "The Prague Cemetery," and about halfway way through there is mention of uprisings in Paris. I went and did more reading on the subject and discovered the nearly total disaster that was the European revolutions of 1848: There were a good dozen countries in Europe that had leftist uprisings of various stripes, and almost all of them ended with reactionaries taking control. Here's the Wikipedia article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolutions_of_1848

France's 1848 revolution in particular had an incredibly ironic outcome: Not only did it fail to reestablish the republic after deposing the last king of France (who was comparatively reasonable as Monarchs go) but the elections that followed saw a Napoleon elected President and -- wouldn't you know it, just like the last two guys named "Napoleon," he declared himself emperor after a little bit of time in office pretending he totally wasn't going to do that.

I realized that someone could have been a child at the time of the first revolution (old enough to remember and understand what was happening) and still be old enough to be approached to "do his part" by revolutionaries. In the song he tells them why he won't bother supporting them, because he thinks that it will end just as badly as it did before.

The narrator offers basically no hope, so I guess that qualifies as the most depressing "political" song I've written. Hooray.

I chose the chord structure and part of the instrumentation as a direct homage to one of my favorite Mark Knopfler songs, "Done With Bonaparte" off his 1996 album Golden Heart; that one's the story of a soldier in Napoleon's army on retreat from Russia. It's an amazing and beautiful traditional-sounding song.

lyrics

Bb
So it seems our people have at last grown civil
Gm
Last revolt the streets were running red
F
I suppose it could be worse than barricades and riots
Eb
This time you let the king keep his head
I'd've fought the good fight in that hopeful july
In my youth when they marched on the Bastille
Every generation invents its future and the past
But the old learn that time becomes a wheel

Cm Eb Cm Eb
Allons enfants … alas that you're still children
Gm Bb F
I think I've had enough of these wars
Bb Gm
There are many way to end a revolution, my friends
F Eb
You can live if you lay down your swords

I too want freedom, please don't think that I don't
But soon enough someone wants to lead
If you pull out the keystone, then the frame falls apart
Freedom's no good to the deceased
Do you remember your brothers, the Italians in Piedmont? --
You deny that they're brothers but they are --
How many fought for money? How many for a vote?
and failed despite correcting your flaws

We traded king for a commune, then bourgeoisie for what?
It's Emperor Napoleon again ---
Can you possibly think that we're any better off?
Even you must see that nothing here has changed
What you see now as victory the mighty can abide
Their patience will be your hangman's rope
I'm sorry if you wanted encouragement and cheers
But it's decades since I'd any cause to hope

credits

from No Fortunes, released March 7, 2015

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baltimericana Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimericana is a place for me (Jon Patton) to stash my solo projects and collaborations with friends. I'm a writer, musician, and (unfortunately) day job schlub from Baltimore and the founder of Baltimore-based folk rock band Midway Fair (midwayfair.org). Be sure to also check out Joe Scala (joescala.wordpress.com), who produced the Baltimericana EP. ... more

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