The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

One of the Songs I was Raised On


There’s a song that is partially quoted in The Skill of Our Hands, the most recent book by Skyler White and me.  It’s to the same tune as the haunting Irish ballad, “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye” (my favorite version is by Odetta), and its US Civil War update, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”

The version quoted in the book was one of songs we’d sing in the car when I was a kid, along with “Solidarity Forever,” and, “Avant di Popolo” and “Hold the Fort” and so on.  When using the song in the book, I changed the word “Fools” to “Fooled” in the tag line because the former strikes me as slightly offensive.  So, with that change, here are the full lyrics as I learned them, in case anyone is interested.

The battle is on that none can shirk
—-In field and street.
The lines are drawn twixt those who work
—-And those who eat.
We are the many, they are the few
But we’ve always done what they told us to
Now the time has come when we’ll not be fooled anymore.

How do they hold the upper hand?
—-The answer runs.
They’ve got the gold, they’ve got the land
—-They’ve got the guns.
Divide and conquer has been the trick
With the gift of gab and the hired dick
But the time has come when we’ll not be fooled anymore.

Mighty the engine, vast the field
—-From coast to coast.
The skill of our hands, the wealth they yield
—-Is all Earth’s boast.
For ours are the hands on those machines.
Just think for a minute of what that means.
And the time has come when we’ll not be fooled anymore.
The time has come when we’ll not be fooled anymore.


Author: skzb

I play the drum.


  1. Wow. I had totally spaced the connection. Thanks for the memory — it’s about time to reclaim some of those songs for the battles to come.

  2. Nice. I’ve heard “Johnny, I hardly knew ye” and the other, but these lyrics are new to me.

  3. Nice. It brings to mind the urban folksongs that Billy Bragg records. I won’t argue the music-to each his own- but lyrically, the sentiment is there. Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on? Those are the songs we sang through Reagan and Bush 1. Who would have thought those two would be considered moderate in this decade?

  4. Is there a way I can hear it sung? I’m having issues youtubing it.

  5. skzb

    Alas, no. I haven’t even found the lyrics online, only a passing reference using the original title (“We’ll Not Be Fools Anymore”) in a songbook.

  6. Is the name of that Italian song “Avanti Popolo” (or “Bandiera Rossa”)?

  7. skzb

    Could be any of the above; never saw it written down.

  8. The name under which the song was known in the Warsaw pact countries was Bandiera Rossa. Avanti (o) popolo are just the first words.

  9. Deserves to be in Upton Sinclair’s The Cry for Justice. The hard left always has some good songs.

  10. I learned When Johnny Comes Marching Home as a kid, it’s a good easy song for a 10 year old learning to play piano – nothing complicated but you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

    I like these lyrics better. Same earworm, more satisfying feeling.

  11. There’s a new interview with Bob Dylan at

  12. The way I learned the original:

    O you haven’t an arm and you haven’t a leg,
    You’re a wingless, boneless, chicken-less egg
    You’ll have to be put with a bowl to beg,
    Oh, Johnny we hardly knew ye

  13. skzb

    I learned it as “Eyeless, boneless, chicken-less egg.”

  14. I wonder if this is what inspired The Who to write Won’t get Fooled Again?

  15. skzb

    Interesting thought.

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