Jan 21

The Ballad of Aaron Swartz

Photo credit: Fred Benenson / www.fredbenenson.comOn January 13th, I read about Aaron Swartz’s suicide in Brooklyn. I was deeply affected by it, and not just for the normal reasons.

If you don’t know who I’m talking about, you should, at the very least, read his Wikipedia page, and possibly do a bit of Googling. Long story short: among other things, he was an activist who was deeply involved in the protests against SOPA and other government and corporate actions that threatened the free flow of information on the internet, particularly public information or information that had been paid for by the public. There’s plenty of details out there, and I’m not going to write a wall of text explaining the issues—this post is about a song.

Yes. I was angry and I wrote a song. I modeled it on the protest/political action songs of the early 20th century that memorialized labour leaders, like Woody Guthrie’s “Two Good Men”, with a little bit of Billy Bragg’s anthemic “There is Power in Our Union” thrown in. Except less good.

I worked on it in my spare time in Toronto from January 13 – 15, and then recorded the version posted here on the 16th, after sending an earlier version out to friends to get feedback. This is actually very frightening for me, as I don’t tend to be very public with my non-comedic songs, and this is the first one I’ve written since probably 2003, but I felt that I really wanted this one to be out there. The sound quality isn’t great, the guitar playing isn’t great, and the vocals aren’t great, but what I’m worried most about is that the song itself isn’t very good. It usually takes me at least two or three months to figure out if something I’ve written is any good, but I don’t feel that I can wait this time.

I suppose that the worst case scenario is that people don’t like it and tell me so, I guess. Best case scenario is that someone with talent likes it enough to re-record it and make it sound good.


Ahem. The buildup is making this worse, so I’m just going to post it the youtube link. If you want the MP3 (why?), it’s linked below.


Ballad of Aaron Swartz v 1.2


MP3: http://aziraphale-public-folder-1.s3.amazonaws.com/Andrew_Woolner-Ballad_of_Aaron_Swartz_v1.2.mp3




Another one has gone:
another hero fallen.
He took things from the rich
like a modern Sherwood Robin

Why were our modern Nottingham
trying to tell us he was wrong?
when what he took on our behalf
was ours, all along
All along

He wasn’t very old
just twice twelve and two
but he risked his liberty
to liberate me and you

This can be a prison planet
on which everything’s a crime
and taking public documents
gets you 30 years of time
30 years of time

He fought for ideals
for a new enlightened age;
the freeflow of information
that would destroy our gilded cage

But those who walk the halls of power
or skulk the corridors of might
prize our state of ignorance
and won’t give up without a fight
without a fight

He had the glint of leadership
He was not a normal kid
He believed in direct action
So that’s exactly what he did

But prosecutor Stephen Heymann
and the vaunted FBI
strove to make him an example
and he was hounded ’til he died
until he died

He didn’t kill or rape
or drive families from their homes
or bet people’s life savings
on a bunch of sub-prime loans

But when the architects of misery
can dine with heads of state
then the defenders of our freedoms
suffer a very different fate
a different fate

Yes, they line the people’s heroes
up against the wall
while plutocrats and their sycophants
laugh about it all
Laugh about it all

He was only one of many
but there was only one of him
and my heart goes to his family
and to all his kith and kin

But he wasn’t the first to fall
nor will he be the last
his successors will be legion
and his enemies outclassed

But were the laws that were his downfall
made with our consent?
Do we need to blame ourselves
When we blame our government?

Another one has gone
another hero fallen…


Photo credit for top photo: Fred Benenson / www.fredbenenson.com



“The Ballad of Aaron Swartz” is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/. To ask for permissions not granted by this license, contact me via my copyright page: http://squeeze-box.ca/?page_id=159 (I will probably say “yes”)

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