"Don’t mourn – organise!"

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

Joe Hill joined my freecycle group this morning.

Okay, so it’s not that Joe Hill – obviously – nor is it his famous namesake. Nope, just some random Joe Hill living in Kansas City. In fact, I don’t even think it’s Joe Hill, but rather the wife of Joe Hill, using a joint email account. (Ladies, wtf is up with that shit? Email accounts are free, ya know, and marriage vows don’t grant your husbands the right to monitor your personal correspondence. Nor do they strip you of your self identity, surname notwithstanding.)

Either way, seeing Joe Hill’s name in the pending members list immediately brought to mind Joan Baez’s performance of “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” (itself a cover of Earl Robinson’s rendition of a 1930 poem by Alfred Hayes), immortalized in the Woodstock ’69 movie and soundtrack. Oh, how I loved that soundtrack! I bought the boxed set some time around 10th grade, and blasted it nonstop for damn near a year. That summer, I spent a good chunk of my vacation sanding a car my parents had recently acquired, so my father could paint it (gray, yuck). From sun up to sun down for weeks, I scrubbed rust from metal while immersing myself in the sounds of Woodstock. Good times.

Anyhow, back to Joe Hill. Born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in Sweden circa 1879, Joe Hill immigrated to the U.S. in 1902, where he eventually embraced socialism and joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or the Wobblies). He worked as a labor organizer, political songwriter, satirical poet and activist. Hill was accused of a double murder in Salt Lake City in 1914 and was subsequently tried and executed for the crime. Hill’s guilt, as well fairness of his trial (which are two separate issues), has been questioned by both contemporaries and historians.

But that’s neither here nor there. As one Amazon reviewer commented (oh, how my wishlist continues to expand!), Baez’s song need not be true in order to be powerful – or, for that matter, need not be nonfiction in order to be true. The U.S. government has a long and continuing history of activist repression, and even if Hill was not framed for the murders, it’s not a huge leap to think that the government has committed similar injustices against other, lesser known activists. The spirit of the song is spot on.

I’ve included the lyrics below for those who can’t view the video – though you’ll miss Baez recount her then-husband’s arrest and incarceration for resisting the military draft. Both Baez and David Harris were reportedly vegetarians; according to the Google, Baez still is (oh, how my love for Baez continues to expand!).

(More below the fold…)