Friday, 31 October 2008

Behind the Songs: Joe Hill

"For 36 years he lived out his days
And he more than played his part
For the songs that he made, he was carefully paid
With a rifle bullet buried in his heart
With a rifle bullet buried in his heart"
--Phil Ochs, "Joe Hill" (1966)

Joe Hill

"Joe Hill became symbolic of the kind of individual sacrifice that would make a revolutionary new society possible. Thus labor radicals, communists, and novelists and playwrights such as John Dos Passos, Wallace Stegner, and Barrie Stavis used the circumstances of Hill's convictions and the manner of his death to create a legend that transformed 'just another forgotten migrant worker' into 'The Man Who Never Died,' as the song which Paul Robeson enthralled audiences in the 1930s and 1940s had it . . . Gibbs Smith has served us well by recapturing the memory of a man whose songs, to quote another wobbly, evoked the spirit of radicals who were the 'very epitome of guts and gallantry,' a handful of homeless heroes touched by true romance. Men and women whose spirits were stirred far above their belly-need; men and women inspired by visions of heaven on earth. Now, as then, society needs such men and women."
--Melvyn Dubofsky, The New York Times Book Review

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