Little Boxes (2020)
We’ll never be the same! The original“Little Boxes” appeared on the first LP I ever bought, Pete Seeger’s We Shall Overcome. You might have heard the song, sung by the writer herself, as the theme on Showtime’s “Weeds.” Thank you to Johanna Halbeisen for the idea.

Little boxes on computers 
Little boxes full of floating heads 
Little boxes, little boxes  
Little pictures with no frame. 
We’re all trying to stay healthy  
With a total lack of leadership  
There’s one blockhead to zoom in on  
If you’re wondering who to blame.

And we try to pay attention  
But we’re busy counting nasal hairs 
On the boxes, little boxes  
Little pictures with no frame.  
This is how we meet each other  
And the world sees our messy living rooms
Or the part that we just cleaned up  
“Cause we have a sense of shame. 

And somebody’s dog is barking
And her husband is in his underwear
And don’t ask what she is wearing
Down below that missing frame.
Someone else who left their sound on
Now is using the facilities  
But thank God there is no video
Just a grey box with their name.

And we’re Zooming every morning
And we’re Zooming every afternoon
We’re so busy getting dizzy
Watching pictures with no frame.
When this horror show is over  
And again we’re three dimensional
We’ll no longer be in boxes  
But we’ll never be the same.

Music by Malvina Reynolds  
New Lyrics by Paul Kaplan  
© 1962 Schroder Music Co. (ASCAP) Renewed 1990   
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

These Are the Days
The new normal, under Covid-19.

Once upon a time our lives were normal
We’d sit around in groups, remember groups?
Remember how we’d pass away the hours
Gathering in bars or on our stoops.

These are the days, my friend, when will they ever end?
I’ve been inside forever and a day
I’d like to leave this spot, but I don’t have a yacht
So I’m afraid I’ll never get away.

Da da da di, di, di, di di di di, di, di Di di di di, di, di di di di di.

In the town of Wuhan was a market
Selling wild boar and pangolin
A virus came and people had to shelter
And they would sing these words, ... in Mandarin.

These are the days, my friend, when will they ever end?
I’ve been inside forever and a day
I’d like to leave this spot, but still it’s way too hot
These are the days, oh yes, these are the days.

Da da da di, etc.

Then the virus spread to every country
But it spared the good old USA
Luckily our president’s a genius
So he made the whole thing go a-
Waaait a minute! That’s not how it goes!

Here’s the real third verse:
Then the virus spread to every country
Now inside the house we have to stay
When I try to teach my kids their lessons
I see why teachers ought to get more pay.

These are the days, my friend, when will they ever end?
I’ve been inside forever and a day
I’d like to leave this spot beforeI start to rot
These are the days, oh yes, these are the days.

Da da da di, etc.

The president has offered a solution...
Maybe that will work, or maybe not
I think that vaccination is the answer
To inoculate us from this idiot.

These are the days, my friend, when will they ever end?
I’ve been inside forever and a day
But I’ll stay in this spot till I can get a shot
These are the days, oh yes, these are the days.

Da da da di, etc. then Di di di di, di di, di di di di, di di,
These are the days, oh, yes, these are the days,
Di di di di di di, di di di di di di, di di di di di di.

Music by Gene Raskin (“Those Were the Days”). New lyrics by Paul Kaplan © Essex Music Inc. (ASCAP) Used by permission. All rights reserved.  

 

The Frozen Blogger  
“The Frozen Logger” appeared on “The Weavers  on Tour,” from their historic Carnegie Hall concert on Christmas Eve of 1955. That album, and its companion “The Weavers at Carnegie Hall,” inspired a love of folk music in countless young Americans, including me.

As I sat down one morning in an internet cafe
A tattoo-covered waitress to me these words did say:

“I see that you are a blogger,”
then she added with a smirk
“That means you’ll sit and play all day
then say you’ve been at work.

“My boyfriend was a blogger
all he ever did was type
We’d have a meeting once a week
if I could get on Skype.

“He’d buy a mini-latte to nurse from nine to five
And once an hour he’d stir it
with an old one gig thumb drive.

“He was a cut above all of the other blogger bums
His fingers flew through Facebook
while he tweeted with his thumbs.

“One day he got a brand new Mac,
the finest of its kind
But with his expanded mem’ry
he completely lost his mind.

“He wouldn’t eat, he wouldn’t sleep,
he wouldn’t take a drink
He only paid attention
to the ones who clicked his link.

“He blogged and blogged without a stop,
this went on for a week
I told him he should take a break
but he couldn’t hear me speak.

“For one whole month he sat there,
a-tapping right along
His body growing weaker,
his opinions growing strong.

“One day I placed before him
some root beer in a cup
He put his hand around it but he could not pick it up.

“Just then he saw that he’d been flamed*
and he had a spasm attack
The root beer flew into the air
and landed on his Mac.

“The Macintosh exploded
with a mighty crash so loud
That his system froze from head to toes
and he flew up to the cloud.

“So I lost my blogger boyfriend,
floating somewhere in the fog
And here I’ll wait for someone
who will promise not to blog.”  

*flamed: harshly insulted on the internet
Music by James Stevens (“The Frozen Logger”) New Lyrics by Paul Kaplan © Folkways Music Publishers (BMI)Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Life on This Planet  
Soon after I wrote this, many years ago, my friend John Zuefle learned it and sang it for some of hisfriends. At the baby shower for his son I met one of those friends, Lisa Kleinholz. We hit it off, and have spent the years since then living the song.

My darling please come to me
Let me tell you where we are 
Stranded on a desert  
And I thank my lucky stars.

Chorus:  
There is life on this planet  
I know we can see it  
I know we can live it every day.

Oh, won’t you be my lover
We can ride the world around  
And dance all day together  
Surrounded by the sound of  

We can find an oasis
In the middle of the wind  
And blow our babies kisses  
As they join us in the swim of

Chorus

And when our children leave us  
And our water all is gone 
We can smile into the sunset  
And in sadness move along, leaving

Life on this planet  
And know we have seen it  
And know we have lived it everyday. So

Repeat first verse and chorus 

 

Traffic Jam in the Zócalo*
In 1974 I made a short but memorable visit to the silver- and tin-mining town of Taxco in Mexico. I love exploring the world, but I can’t help reflecting on my effect, both positive and negative, on the places I visit.

Now me and Sam drove into town
at the start of market day
Everyone knew who we were
but no one backed away
I had five dollars in my pockets
and fifty in my shoes
The way the natives kissed my feet
I knew I stood to lose.

Chorus:
There’s a traffic jam in the Zócalo
Way down south in Mexico
It’s Uncle Sam on the lam
A long way from Chicago.

I began to hop from shop to shop
till my arms were filled with loot
I bought a set of dishes and a fancy cowboy suit
Then I grabbed a hot tamale
and headed for the square
To find that human folly
was making progress there.

Chorus
Camping cars from California
and taxicabs from town
And tourist busses filled with us
all tried to run me down
I dashed to the cathedral
but much to my chagrin
There was a hot rod Ford with a plastic Lord
where the altar should have been.

Chorus
I bought a picture postcard
and retreated to the car
Where I found The Holy Trio with
Jesús on guitar
He said “Something tells me
you need a song to sing
So here’s a tune I wrote for you
and it doesn’t cost a thing.” And he sang:

“Hay mucho tráfico en el Zócalo
En el sur de México
Es tío Sam viajando
Lejos de Chicago.

Well I threw the man a peso
and set out for the States
But every time I’d hit a bump
I’d break a few more plates
My ten-gallon sombrero
with the dingle balls hanging down blew out the
window and my jumping beans jumped away
But I brought back more than I bargained for
since I heard that poor man say:

Chorus

*The Zócalo is the central square inMexican cities and towns.
1982 Paul Kaplan Music ASCAP .
 

 

We Shall Stay Here  
I wrote this for Lisa right after she moved in with me. Two notable performances: The Song Project at New York’s Town Hall (in 4/4 time!) and the Potluck Singers, singing the version printed below at the wedding of our daughter Siena to Allie Thompson.

This was an empty space
Until our love appeared
Now that we found our place, found our place
We shall stay here.

If we can sing in tune
Even the stars may hear
Sounds from a tiny room, tiny room
We shall stay here.

Bridge:
Out of the earth we sprang, I know
Into the earth we’ll go.

But ‘til our voices break
Harmony hides our fear
Under the love we make, love we make
We shall stay here.

Repeat bridge and last verse
© 1974 Paul Kaplan Music ASCAP
 

 

The Voice of Pete
As Pete Seeger moved into old age he began increasingly to depend on his always-eager live audiences to support his flagging vocal abilities. In 2001 I wrote “The Voice of Pete” as an ode to his “voice,” in the larger meaning of that word. Ever humble, he asked me not to sing the song until after he “kicked the bucket.” When Pete was ninety-four that bucket went flying and slammed into us with a powerful and heart-rending force. I adapted the song to reflect his passing, but also to affirm his continuing positive influence.

I dreamed I heard Pete Seeger sing
when he was ninety-three
Says I, “But Pete, you lost your voice,”
“It never died,” said he,
“It never died,” said he.

“You used it up at concert halls,
and all those picket lines,”
Says Pete, “I lost my vocal cords,
my voice is doing fine,
My voice is doing fine.

“Though some would say my voice has died,
it’s never been as strong
As when it comes back amplified
by those who sing along,
By those who sing along.

“For I am like the shantyman
who stands before the gale
And helps us pull together so
we all can raise the sail,
We all can raise the sail.”

And just before my dream was o’er
he left me with these words
“When what you sing comes from the heart
you always will be heard,
You always will be heard.”

Now Pete is gone but if you listen well
you’ll surely hear His song,
his hammer and his bell still ringing loud and clear,
Still ringing loud and clear.

Wisconsin down to Texas,
California to Wall Street
When folks Sing Out! for justice
then you’ll hear the voice of Pete,
You’ll hear the voice of Pete.

RePete first verse

Music by Earl Robinson (“Joe Hill”) New Lyrics by Paul Kaplan© Universal-MCA Music Publishing (ASCAP)© Music Sales Corp. (ASCAP) Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Let’s Make a Toast 
In 1990 I offered to write a song on demand for anyone who would pledge to my local NPR station in support of Susan Forbes Hansen’s long-running and now long-lamented “Valley Folk” show. Mark McNally, the listener who took me up on the offer, requested a toasting song. This (extensively altered over thirty years) is what I came up with.

Let’s make a toast to all those who have gathered  
Old friends and new friends now lift up your glass 
Here’s hoping your joys will all keep overflowing
Here's hoping your sorrows all swiftly will pass.

May there be arms that will warm you in winter
Hands that will wipe summer sweat from your brow
Lips that will miss you when they cannot kiss you
A heart to stay true to you all the year ‘round.

May you have eyes to see what lies before you
Ears that can hear all the wisdom you’re told
A tongue that can taste both the sweet and the salty
A nose for the truth and a truth you can hold.  

Here’s to the farmer who grows hops and barley
The driver who carries the grain from the fields
The brewer who mixes a magic elixir
So we may enjoy what their laboring yields.

If you are drinking a simpler concoction
Water or juice from the vine or the tree
May the aromas from all of our beverages
Now mingle together in sweet harmony.
Here’s to the future, though it be uncertain
And dark clouds are hovering over our heads
May you have comrades to lighten your burden
Who lift up your spirit and keep it well fed.

Coda, as a two-part round:
Green bottle, brown bottle,
Clear bottle, tall or wide
Nothing makes a difference but what is inside.

© 2020 Paul Kaplan Music ASCAP

 

If I Had Half an Acre
Channeling my youthful self. I actually do have all of these things, except the floors of terracotta. But “terra cotta” rolls off the tongue a lot smoother than “domestic porcelain tile. Oh, yes, no pocket full of diamonds, yet.

If I had half an acre I would build a little house
With floors of terra cotta
And windows facing south I would plant a garden
Full of food and flowers, too
If I had half an acre I would build a life with you.

If I had half an acre I would never ask for more
Than just to see you greet me
When I walked in the door I don’t need a mansion
With a million dollar view
If I had half an acre I would build a life with you.

Bridge:
I----would cook you breakfast
And put the honey in your tea
Maybe we could raise some children
To keep us company.

What’s the use of riches
When you’re living all alone
A pocket full of diamonds
Is just a pile of stones
Every day’s a treasure When you have a love that’s true
If I had half an acre I would build a life with you. Every day’s a treasure
When you have a love that’s true
If I had half an acre I would build a life with you.

© 2020 Paul Kaplan Music ASCAP 

 

Welcome Home  
Inspired by a story by Dave Anderson in the New York Times about Jackie Robinson’s first minor league game.  

On the eighteenth of April, nineteen forty-six
It was opening day for the Royals
And young Jackie Robinson stood at the plate
In his first game on minor-league soil
With two men on base he stared at the mound
The fastball came in, his bat flew around.

While circling the bases, three runs with one blow
Jackie hoped now his team would respect him
But a voice in his head kept on telling him “No”
As a Negro, they’d never accept him
Approaching the plate he broke out in a grin
For there stood a teammate to usher him in.

Chorus:
Welcome home, welcome home
Mister Jackie Robinson
Welcome, welcome home.  

Repeat chorus

It was George Shuba waiting, his right hand outstretched
Jackie put out his own and George took it
A moment of grace for the whole human race
As George gripped Jackie’s hand and then shook it
A natural reaction, a man to a man
Someone hits a homer, you hold out your hand.

Chorus 2x

In George Shuba’s living room only one photo
Is hung from his days as a player
It’s not the World Series home run he is proudest of
Now that he’s older and grayer
It’s minor-league Shuba, in front of the crowd
And his body language is shouting out loud:

Chorus 2x

© 2020 Paul Kaplan Music ASCAP 

 

Survival
Black Lives Matter!

There was an African
Who lived in Sierra Leone
And when the locusts came
They ate the rice she’d grown
But they’re not hard to catch
And when she brought them home
They made a decent meal
Survival.

There was a prisoner
Upon a stormy sea
Under a bloody moon
Chained in captivity
But he could feel the arms
Of his strong family tree
Bearing him through the night
Survival.

There was a laborer
Beneath the burning sun
At night her master came
So he could have his fun
Her children all of them
Were sold in Charleston
They carried all her dreams
Survival.

There was a sharecropper
On a poor patch of land
Who yearned to scream above
The hoofbeats of the Klan
But no one hears the cries
Of three-fifths of a man
He learned to bite his tongue
Survival.

There was a citizen Who had the right to vote
Though she knew if she tried
They just might slit her throat
But she had come so far From that dark slavery boatAnd so she found a way
Survival.

It's on the video
For everyone to see
The knee that’s kept them down
Through four long centuries
But they are rising now
Determined to be free
At last to guarantee
Survival.

© 2020 Paul Kaplan Music ASCAP

 

After the Fire
I wrote this as a metaphor on the first anniversary of 9/11. Recently, literal fire disasters have given the song new meaning. But whatever the setback, we must nurture those seedlings of hope. We recorded this live in two locations and Max Cohen did some engineering magic to combine the two versions, and then added some studio tracks. Many thanks to Anne Louise White for assembling and conducting the chorus and for her helpful arranging suggestions.

After the fire the tears fell like rain
Where tall trees had stood there was nothing but pain
A forest of green was turned into ash
The world that we knew disappeared in a flash.

After the fire we gathered around
Searching for signs of life on the ground
The earth looked so bare as dead as can be
But something was there that nobody could see.

Bridge:
Slowly a seed under our feet
Started to stir woken up by the heat
It sent down a root to help it hold tight
It sent up a shoot to reach for the light.
Seedlings will grow, trees will stand tall
Though we’ll always know how far they can fall
But nothing can kill the will to survive
After the fire there is so much alive.

© 2020 Paul Kaplan Music ASCAP

———

Recorded by Joe Oliverio at the JewishCommunity of Amherst and by Max Cohen at Mt. Toby Meetinghouse, Leverett MA and Shoestring Studio, Belchertown MA.
Sincere thanks to all the musicians who poured their hearts into making this album sound as I dreamed it would. Special thanks to: Bev Grant Charlie KingDavid Heitler-Klevans Robin Greenstein Terry Kitchen, The Leverett Community Chorus and our director, Anne Louise White. And especially to Max Cohen, for his infinite patience and consummate engineering skill. This album is dedicated to the memory of RogerConant, who tirelessly spoke out, and sang out, in his clear strong bass voice in the service of peace, justice and harmony.