“Born in Captivity” by T Bone Burnett (with Victor Lebow and Abraham Heschel)


burnett

This post presents an old song by “The Alpha Band,” of which T Bone Burnett was a member. The song is basically about the fact that Americans, especially since the time of the baby-boomer generation which the Alpha band was part of, are born as captives. I’ll let the listener grapple with the song lyrics itself, but have provided several quotes from economist Victor Lebow and the Jewish biblical scholar Abraham Heschel that I think best reveal the nature of our captivity that I think the song is about. (I may add some comment on the song lyrics later.)

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Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate. (1955 Journal of Retailing article by Victor Lebow “Price Competition in 1955”)

The most urgent task is to destroy the myth that accumulation of wealth and the achievement of comfort are the chief vocations of man. (Abraham Heschel, Moral Grandeur, 31, cited in Prophetically Incorrect, Robert H. Woods Jr. and Paul D. Patton, 157, footnote #39)

alpha band

The 1977 Alpha Band album which contained “Born in Captivity.” I gave my old vinyl cutout to my son.

Born in captivity
Born in captivity
Born in captivity
We’re all born in captivity
Born in captivity

They make you stand in line for the first grade
They make you kneel in hall to the air raid
They say the saucer’s coming any day
To take you and all your friends away
But thirty times it never comes
And still the natives beat the drums

And we’re born in captivity
We’re all born in captivity
Yes we’re born in captivity
Cossack children of the bourgeoisie

And they burn their images in your brain
And tell you what is valuable
Till’ it all looks pretty much the same
Then you are totally malleable
And it works like magic on everyone
Cause the camera’s mightier than the cannon

And we’re born in captivity
We’re all born in captivity
And we’re born in captivity
Cossack children of the bourgeoisie
Awaiting our delivery

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2014

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One thought on ““Born in Captivity” by T Bone Burnett (with Victor Lebow and Abraham Heschel)

  1. The overall point of the song is revealed by the repeated C O U P chorus behind the lyrics of the song. The song is basically to show the need for a “revolution” in light of the “captivity” that is revealed by the song.

    The phrase “cossack children of the bourgeoisie” presents a challenge, based in images from the Russian Marxist revolution. I’m not sure if these “children” are seen as liberators or as captives, or both, but it seems that they are probably the “us” of the mid 1970’s counterculture.

    I think the most important phrase of the song is “the camera’s mightier than the cannon,” which I think means that the consumer culture’s propagandizing myth-making advertising has largely succeeded in its secret “militaristic revolution” by making it’s people captive to its dominant myth of “consumerism.”

    “Awaiting our delivery” seems to close the song somewhat ambiguously, due to its passivity. This passivity could be here for many reasons. If anyone wonders what I have in mind, post a question and I’ll reply.

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