Five years after the Wall Street crash of 1929, George Gershwin wrote what he called a “banjo song” for “Porgy and Bess.” It turned into “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin'” with lyrics by Edwin DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin. The second verse goes like this:
Heathcote Williams reminded me of the song when his poem Rich People was posted the other day by the International Times in London. His second verse goes like this:
De folks wid plenty o’ plenty
Got a lock on de door
‘Fraid somebody’s a-goin’ to rob ’em
While dey’s out a-makin’ more
While the gap between the poor and the prosperous
Widens and widens and leads to despair,
The rich hide from the consequence of their actions
In gated communities. Unwilling to care.
It’s less musical than the Gershwin tune, which is to be expected of an indictment rather than a folk opera. But by a nice coincidence it arrives right on time. See this week’s New York Times series about the real-estate rape of New York by the world’s wealthiest crooks and shysters, who are able to hide their identities behind legal shell companies. OK, some of them are merely rich celebrities … Jimmy Buffett, Ricky Martin, Tom Brady, and Kelly Ripa are name-checked in the series. Barbra Streisand isn’t. But she does figure in the poem:
“I want only two houses, rather than seven,
Said the millionaire Barbra Streisand blithely.
“I feel like letting go of things,” she said grandly
And without the least trace of irony.