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Hi,

Joe Hill was a union organizer at a time when you risked your life organizing. Kind of like today. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Joe Hill has been immortalized in song and literature. I am not going to do a bio of Joe Hill which would be a great Protest Music diary. And I'm not going to do a thorough look at Joe's place in literature which would be another great diary.

Instead I'm going to take three diaries I did years ago and combine them into a single thread that demonstrates the lasting influence of the myth of Joe Hill.

Hat tip to hissyspit who inspired this rewrite with The Ghost of Tom Joad.

We'll start with The Boss, work our way through Joan Baez and Crashing Vor, and end up with John Steinbeck, Henry Fonda and Woody Guthrie. Please click Continue.

more ...

Bruce Springsteen with Tom Morello 2008 - The Ghost Of Tom Joad

Tom Joad is the protagonist in John Steinbeck's, "The Grapes Of Wrath", a book that changed the world. This verse is a close quote from one of Tom Joad's most famous speeches in the book.

Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me."

 - Ghost Of Tom Joad lyrics at brucespringsteen.net

This song describes the new hobo culture developing in the US comparing them to the migrant workers during the depression and dust bowl days portrayed by Tom Joad.

Joan Baez - Joe Hill

Joan Baez is singing at the Operation Ceasefire Concert in Washington DC on Sept. 24, 2005.

This song, also called "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night" was published as a poem by Alfred Hayes in 1930. In 1936 Earl Robinson added the music.

Here's a link to Crashing Vor's addition to the legend of Joe Hill in song.

Louie Ludwig Joe Hill Cryin'

He turned me on to this in the comments discussing "The Ghost Of Tom Joad".

Crashing Vor brings Joe Hill into the present by invoking his dream of Unionizing and lamenting the decline in Union membership and power today. He says, "That ain't rain boys, that's Joe Hill cryin'."

The strongest part of the lyric is the bridge where he sings.

You can blame the robots working on a factory floor.
Blame the folks in India taking all your jobs offshore.
You can blame the local boys who love their Walmart store.
Me, I blame the money men trying to squeeze a dollar more.

He performs the song in the folk tradition with two acoustic guitars and simple harmonies. You can almost see him with his harp on a rack, playing the breaks.

All thanks to Crashing Vor for this great song.

I hope to cover Joe Hill more thoroughly in the future. Crashing Vor recommended Stegner's Joe Hill. I'll add a few links too.

"I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night" lyrics

wikipedia

Joe's Songs

The Joe Hill Project

Please list more Joe Hill resources, songs, and stories in the comments.

John Steinbeck published The Grapes Of Wrath in 1939. In 1940 it was a motion picture starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad. RCA Victor asked Woody Guthrie to write some songs about the Dust Bowl. His album "Dust Bowl Ballads" originally released on multiple 78 rpm records in 1941 was his most successful work and included his song, "Tom Joad" on two records. Following up on this came another album "Pastures Of Plenty". The title track, written from the point of view of a migrant worker, remains one of his most popular songs and was included in the Broadway adaptation of "The Grapes Of Wrath". This places Woody Guthrie along with John Steinbeck right in the center of American literature focusing on the dustbowl. This means that it is their work that brings the dustbowl and the farmers it affected to life for future generatons.

Arlo Guthrie - Woody's "Pastures of Plenty"

Here's Woody Guthrie's version of "Pastures Of Plenty".

Woody Guthrie - Pastures of Plenty

My favorite verse goes like this.

I worked in your orchards of peaches and prunes
I slept on the ground in the light of the moon
On the edge of the city you'll see us and then
We come with the dust and we go with the wind

 - Woody Guthrie - Pastures Of Plenty lyrics at woodyguthrie.org.


Here's the version from the Broadway play, "The Grapes Of Wrath".

Pastures of Plenty - Grapes of Wrath Version

I'm going to quote Raymond Crooke here with his concise description of the way the song "Tom Joad" came to be.

Woody wrote this seventeen-verse ballad, based on Steinbeck's great novel, "The Grapes of Wrath," specifically for his 1940 album, "Dust Bowl Ballads". He had never actually read the book but he considered John Ford's movie of it "the best cussed pitcher I ever seen." He wrote the song overnight at the home of Jerry Oberwager, where Pete Seeger was staying, as there was a typewriter (and a half gallon of wine) available. The tune used is the same melody as the Carter family's "John Hardy."

Both Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen include Steinbeck's famous Tom Joad speech in their songs.

Whenever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Whenever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there... I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'-I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build-why, I'll be there.

 - John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Chapter 28

This text remains the same in the movie with only a very few words changed and the meaning intact. (Wherever instead of whenever and people instead of folks) Henry Fonda also adds the word "too" at the end of the speech.

The script in the Broadway play also closely matches Steinbeck's text except "I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'-I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready." is dropped. And instead of the "too" at the end a one word sentence is added, "See?".

According to the story above Woody Guthrie wrote "Tom Joad" from memory after seeing the movie and not having read the book. His text

Wherever little children are hungry and cry,
Wherever people ain't free.
Wherever men are fightin' for their rights,
That's where I'm a-gonna be, Ma.
That's where I'm a-gonna be."

 - Woody Guthrie - Tom Joad lyrics at woodyguthrie.org.

Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me."

 - Ghost Of Tom Joad lyrics at brucespringsteen.net

Starts with a direct quote from the movie, Steinbeck's words except wherever instead of whenever, the second line is a paraphrase from Woody Guthrie's lyric substituting newborn baby for little children, and later in the verse he is "fightin' for a place to stand" and strugglin' to be free" capturing the spirit of Woody Guthrie's version of the story.

A bunch of the other stuff Springsteen just made up. After all he is telling a different story about a different era.

We have to assume that Springsteen read the book, saw the movie, and loved Guthrie's song. These were choices he made in his modernization of the story.

The truth of the matter is it's the same old story. All of the echoes caught by Guthrie and Springsteen in their versions are to be found somewhere in the novel, The Grapes Of Wrath. And, unfortunately, all these stories remain pertinent today.

I find it fascinating to watch this fictional character told and retold through time. Please fill me in on other works involving the legend of Tom Joad.

Thanks,

Hairy Larry

Originally posted to DKOMA on Tue Nov 29, 2011 at 07:49 PM PST.

Also republished by Protest Music, An Ear for Music, Musical Moondays, Indigo Kalliope, and ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement.

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