Mittwoch, 29. Juni 2022

"Don´t Mourn - Organize!" - Songs Of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill

The inclusion of Joan Baez's version of "Joe Hill" on the Woodstock album has been single-handedly responsible for keeping Joe Hill in the public consciousness.

Sad but true, for Joe Hill, poet, songwriter, and organizer, was the most popular intentionally proletarian artist in American culture. Not an easy feat, especially considering how many people have tried to be popular proletarian artists.

This album, named after Joe Hill's famous last words before he was executed by the State of Utah, is a testament to Hill's power as a musical and cultural figure. It also attempts to secure his place in our memory.

The album consists of two elements, Hill songs performed by important interpreters and songs about Hill, again in historically important performances.

Among the former, number Harry McClintock singing "The Preacher and the Slave," Pete Seeger doing "Casey Jones (The Union Scab)," and Cisco Houston's version of "The Tramp."

The latter category contains the more varied and more interesting contributions. Among these are poet Kenneth Patchen's spoken word piece "Joe Hill Listens to the Praying," Billy Bragg singing Phil Ochs' "Joe Hill," and both Paul Robeson and Earl Robinson performing the Robinson-penned number Baez made her own, "Joe Hill," with its classic line, "I never died said he."

Excellent as an album and as a cultural document, hopefully this album will not let us forget the important legacy, a sense of purpose, Joe Hill bequeathed to our culture.

Biography of Joe Hill:

Joe Hill was born Joel Emmanuel Haggland in Sweden, the ninth son of a railroad worker. His father died when Hill was eight years old, and he went to work in order to help support his mother and six siblings. When Hill's mother died in 1902, he emigrated to the United States. Until 1910 practically nothing is known of where Hill lived or what he did. It is known that he was in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake, as Hill sent back an eyewitness account of the horror and devastation caused by this disaster to Sweden, where it was published in a local newspaper. Somewhere along the line he changed his name to "Joseph Hillstrom," possibly to avoid arrest. By the time Joe Hill finally surfaces in San Pedro, CA, in 1910, it is clear that he had been working a long time as a migrant laborer, and was on intimate terms with the suffering and misery experienced by the families of his fellow workers under the conditions of this era.

In San Pedro, Hill joined the I.W.W. (International Workers of the World, or as popular slang had it, "the Wobblies"), a Chicago-based labor organization which set itself up as a worldwide advocate and agitator for the cause of worker's rights and the unionization of industries. Towards the end of 1910, Hill published a letter in the I.W.W.'s in-house publication International Worker, identifying himself as a member of the Portland, OR, chapter of the I.W.W. and signing off as "Joe Hill" for the first known time. At the beginning of 1911, Hill is found in Tijuana, attempting to mobilize an I.W.W. offensive to assist the overthrow of the Mexican government. From then until January 1914, Hill's trail once again runs cold, this time not due to a lack of information, but to an impossible wealth of Joe Hill sightings; Hill became such a legendary "wobbly" that he is accredited as being present at practically all I.W.W. functions nationwide.

It was during this time that Hill established himself as the main event of I.W.W. rallies, singing songs he had written that pilloried capitalist bosses, "scabs," glorified the ordinary American worker, and urged on the creation of unions. The lyrics to these songs were published in the I.W.W.'s Little Red Song Book and achieved wide distribution therein, but most of the thousands who got to know such songs as "Union Maid," "The Preacher and the Slave," "There is a Power in the Union," and "Workers of the World, Awaken!" heard them sung by Joe Hill in person. The lyrics were usually simple, easily memorized, and set to tunes that were already known to the assembly at the I.W.W. meetings. "A song is learned by heart and repeated over and over," Hill once wrote, "and if a person can put a few common sense facts into a song and dress them up in a cloak of humor, he will succeed in reaching a great number of workers who are too unintelligent or too indifferent to read."

In January 1914, Joe Hill was apprehended in Salt Lake City, UT, on a still controversial, but seemingly entirely circumstantial, charge of murdering a local grocer who also happened to be a retired law enforcement officer. During Hill's trial he offered little to no evidence in his own defense, and was more openly hostile to the volunteer attorneys representing him than he was to the prosecution, who sought the death penalty. Hill was convicted and executed by a firing squad on November 19, 1915, over the protestations of the Swedish Ambassador to the United States, Helen Keller, and President Woodrow Wilson himself, all of whom had pleaded with the governor of Utah for a new trial for Hill. Hill's own unexplainable behavior under these dire circumstances suggests that, though innocent of the charge, he had resigned himself to the notion of becoming a martyr for the cause of the unions. To be fair, it should be stated that Hill's fellow inmates at the Utah State Penitentiary believed that he was, in actuality, guilty of the charges against him. After his execution, the coffin containing Hill's body was hastily transported to Chicago, where it was joined by a crowd of 30,000 mourners in a massive I.W.W. funeral procession through the city streets.

Joe Hill's 30 or so songs were once thought so dangerous that many would dare not sing them in public or risk arrest. To this repertoire was added an additional powerful anthem of the left, entitled "Joe Hill" and written in 1925 by poet Alfred Hayes and set to music by Earl Robinson. This was sung at workers' rallies in the 1930s and 1940s, when millions were in attendance and the I.W.W. itself was no longer even a factor. Although the red-baiting of the 1950s put a damper on the American left, by this time, the work of Hill had already left its mark on such singers as Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, and Pete Seeger and other left-leaning folksingers who would further influence Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and those who would become leading voices in the 1960s protests against the Vietnam War. Baez sang the song "Joe Hill" as the first number in her appearance at the 1969 Woodstock Festival.

Joe Hill never found himself in a situation where he could be recorded, and his influence was mainly spread from singer to singer. Only in the late '90s did historians take much interest in Joe Hill as a performer and artist, and the study has already revealed much about the origins of politically oriented folk songs in America. It appears that Joe Hill, whether guilty or innocent of murder, was truly the first protest singer in America, and certain of his specific metaphors, such as his notion of "pie in the sky when you die," are encountered repeatedly in subsequent generations of folk songs that deal with social and political change.

"Don´t Mourn - Organize!" - Songs Of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill
(256 kbps, front cover included, all tracks included!)

14 Kommentare:

Anonym hat gesagt…

track 1 and 5 are missing! be great if you could re-up them.
this is a great album. cheers.

zero hat gesagt…

Sorry! Now the file is complete and the bitrate is higher. Greetings!

ein anarchist hat gesagt…

1000 dank dafür, genossen. den plattentitel sollte mann in spiegelschrift all den idioten da draussen auf die stirn tätowieren...

ein anarchist hat gesagt…


habt ihr womöglich zeug von utah philips auf lager? ist hierzulande nicht wirklich einfach aufzutreiben, wenn man amazon und i-tunes boykottieren will...

zero hat gesagt…

I will look for Utah Philips recordings and share them... Greetings!

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

According to Gibb Smith's book "Joe Hill", two people were shot and killed, a grocer who was a former policeman and his son, on January 20, 1914. The grocer, John G. Morrison, and two of his sons, Merlin and Arling, were in the process of closing Morrison's store at 10 p.m. when two armed, masked men entered, "We have got you now." His son Arling was also killed. The police believed that after his father was shot in the back, his son Arling took his father’s gun and shot one of the robbers.

At 11:30 p.m., Hill appeared at a doctor's office with a gunshot wound. Reportedly he told the doctor, "Doctor, I've been shot. I got in a stew with a friend of mine who thought I insulted his wife. When he told me I insulted his wife, I knocked him down, but he got up and pulled a gun and shot me. I have walked a way up here so I guess it ain't serious because this fellow that shot me didn't really know what he was doing, I want to have nothing said about it. If there's a chance to get over it, it will be O.K. with my friend."

Hill was armed according to the doctor but denied it and subsequently offered no explanation for why he was armed. However, according to Hill, when Merlin Morrison, the sole survivor of the gunfight, was brought to confirm Hill's identity as one of the men in the store, he said, "No, that's not the man at all. The ones I saw were shorter and heavier set."

When arraigned, Hill entered a plea of Not Guilty and rejected counsel on the grounds that he couldn't afford it. In all likelihood he didn't want a public defender because public defenders were employed by the same judicial system that was trying to convict him. Hill wanted to present a Pro Se defense. Hill was to be charged for only one of the murders, that of the grocer. Shortly after the preliminary hearing, an attorney visited Hill and informed Hill that he was a stranger in town who was interested in the case. Hill accepted his offer to handle Hills case free of charge. The attorney became a partner in Hill’s defense with another attorney.

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

Hill’s behavior in court was unusual. He discharged his attorneys in open court and stated that they were in league with the district attorney and he could present a pro defense that was better than anything they could do. However, the judge instructed them to remain and assist Hill in his defense and Hill subsequently stated that they could remain but he would represent himself. According to one of Hill’s attorneys in a statement in August 1915, the jury’s foreman and some members of the jury informed him that they though the defense counsel convincing and leaned towards finding Hill innocent, but decided that his outburst and charge that his attorneys were working for the state were signs of his guilt. Moreover, when the Wobblies offered to assist Hill, he told them he did not want the union involved and thought he would be found not guilty and released. Notwithstanding, the Wobblies did organized a defense fund for hill.

The district attorney had stated outright that the state's evidence against Hill was only circumstantial and he would not prove directly that Hill had killed Morrison, but would instead submit a chain of circumstances from which guilt would be inferred.

Virginia Snow Stephen, the daughter of late Latter Day Saints (LDS) Church President Lorenzo Snow and an art professor at the University of Utah, was convinced that Hill was innocent and contacted a well-known labor attorney in Denver, who had been representing union members in high-profile cases for years. Hilton wasn't able to join Hill's team and recruited a local attorney sit in on the trial and handle an appeal, if one was needed.

Critics of Hill's conviction and execution note that Hill had no motive for the killing, the prosecution was based nearly solely on the fact he was shot that same night, and there was no reliable identification of him as one of the killers although Arling Morrison disputed Hill’s statement that he, Morrison, had failed to identify him as one of the killers. Under cross-examination, Arling admitted that the two men were masked and he could not identify Hill. Critics also contend that Hill's attorneys were incompetent. However, Hill did not testify and disclose any details of his alibi and was uncooperative with his counsel.

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

One of the policeman who was at the scene of the crime testified that the police could not prove that Arling had in fact fired Morrison’s gun. Obviously if no shot was fired then Hill could not have been wounded by that gun. Yet the defense abruptly concluded its presentation and did not put Hill on the stand. Specifically the attorney recruited by the labor attorney advised Hill not to testify even though Hill has previously stated he would do so. The jury may have assumed that Hill’s failure to testify after saying he would was also a sign of his guilt.

Hill was undoubtedly innocent; however, he received poor advice from counsel and did not testify on his own behalf to explain the circumstances of his being shot. They also inexplicably concluded their presentation at a point in the trial when Hills testimony and further cross-examination of the witnesses might have been persuasive to the jury. Also, Hill’s outburst and accusations against his counsel probably swayed the jury to convict him even though no witness could definitively identify him. At best they could say that one of the gunmen was of similar height. Clearly, the governor acted unfairly and based on political bias. In fact, the Salt Lake Herald-Republican reported that the "Governor turns deaf ear to Wilson's appeal; Hillstrom to be shot to death this morning." The Salt Lake Telegram's headline read: "I.W.W.'s must leave Utah, says … [governor]."

Whether Hill could have received a fair trial is questionable because he was a transient and a Wobbly. However, despite the lyrics of a famous song about him, there’s no evidence that the copper bosses or state government officials conspired to have him tried and convicted. What is clear is that the governor was obdurate in the face of domestic and international protest and wanted a Wobbly-free Utah. As you note, with hours to go before Hill's scheduled execution, President Woodrow Wilson sent a telegram to Utah’s governor asking for a postponement so the Swedish minister; that is, the minister of Hill’s native country, could have time to examine the case. The governor reluctantly agreed, but when the stay expired shortly after Hill's 36th birthday, he refused Wilson's second request, and Hill was executed.

In brief, like the songs about Sacco and Vanzetti, the songs about Joe Hill ignore some of the actual facts concerning the defendants, such as carrying guns at the approximate time of the crime or when apprehended, in order to present a sanitized martyr. All three should be remembered as victims of unfair verdicts who were executed despite international outcry and the pleas of prominent citizens in the United States. Above all, all three should be remembered for being human beings with the virtues and flaws we all have who believed strongly in anarchism and were executed in large part because of their radical political beliefs. As political prisoners, they died with dignity under brutal circumstances and their executions exposed the gross inequities and need for change of the U. S. justice system. That justice system is still problematic as reflected in the disparities between sentences for white Americans and those of backs, Hispanics, and American Indians.

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

Sadly, labor history and the role of anarchism as a political movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are not taught in most of our schools and, consequently, the Haymarket martyrs, Sacco and Vanzetti and Joe Hill are remembered primarily by those of us on the left and elderly Americans. They deserve to be remembered by all for their dedication to and willingness to die for their convictions in their effort to fight for justice and equality for all, and a concept of government they believed would be superior to the inequities and societal ruptures caused by unrestrained capitalism.

Too often anarchists are portrayed simplistically and unfairly as mad, wild-eyed bombers because of the actions of a minority of radicals who believed in violence as a means of change (Johann Most's propaganda of the deed) and are cited as the cause of the red scare, Palmer raids, and deportations of the 1920s. They are not recognized for the significant political movement they built that fought on behalf of workers and the poor for changes in working and living conditions, many of which, such as the eight-hour workday, were subsequently adopted and are now taken for granted by many who are ignorant of how those changes and benefits were achieved. Lastly, they are certainly not remembered for their championing a more humane and equitable society. This blog is unusual for remembering them through your posts and, by doing so, you perform a great service.

ibertrola hat gesagt…

link wrong...

swappers hat gesagt…

Great stuff and thanks for this. I grew up with the song Joe Hill by Paul Robeson and the info here plus additional background from Feilimid O'Broin is much appreciated. Fascinating.

zero hat gesagt…

Yes, the explanations by Feilimid O´Broin are really great.

The link is fine, i checked it again.

Anonym hat gesagt…

Access denied at link, but thank you anyway.

zero hat gesagt…

Sorry, but as far as i see the link is fine...Pleae try again!

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