Knock On The Door
However charitable one may try to be with Phil’s early songs, Knock On The Door is always going to come up rather short, as any attempt to squeeze two-thousand years of totalitarianism into two minutes forty of a song would do.
Persecution was hardly alien to Phil. His family had after all escaped it when they left Poland for the U.S.A. Many of his fellow folk singers had faced it for their leftist opinions, especially those such as Sis Cunningham and Pete Seeger who had endured the McCarthy years. He also saw it on his visits to Hazard, Kentucky and Mississippi. All of these experiences would make it into a song, with the exception of his great-grandparents story. And it is largely due to the sheer weight of their topicality that make songs such as Here’s To The State Of Mississippi, The Ballad Of John Henry Faulk and Hazard, Kentucky so much more successful than Knock On the Door. It’s first and major failure is its inability to even begin to capture the feeling of dread felt by those experiencing persecution of any kind, instead rather ponderously leaping from one time and place to another. It may attempt to give a historical perspective to a contemporary issue (something that Phil managed far more successfully in I Ain’t Marching Anymore and We Seek No Wider War for example), but the songs fails to do justice to each example. The verse concerning the Nazi’s seems almost rude (“modern times”?!) with its rather flippant reference to the “six million people”.
The very title – Knock On the Door – repeated for each chorus, seems so wimpy, polite even, especially compared to his later Cops Of the World with its far more powerful (and probably closer to the truth) line “they smash down your doors, they don’t bother to knock”. It is simply far too generalised, without even a clear sense of who Phil is singing about, to have any real impact. And a line as vague as “when they knock over their friend they’re knocking for you” hardly helps.
This is in stark contrast with The Trial which deals with the same topic with far more clarity and drama, using first person narrative to bring the terror of capture and incarceration to life, in a way that Knock On the Door totally fails to do.