A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over. And I maintain that 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. – Joe Hill
When asked where he was born, Joe Hill would reply, “the planet Earth”. Specifically, he was born in Sweden and was named Joel Emmanuel Haggland. He became a labor activist, specifically a Wobbly, which was a term of unknown origin adopted by the Industrial Workers of the World, or the IWW. Specifically, his specialty was radical songwriting. His trick was to write new lyrics to familiar tunes, such as “Red River”, Glory Hallelujah” or any Stephen Foster song, so all a singer had to do was memorize the lyrics, read them from a little red book, or fake it.
By 1914, Joe found himself in Utah, helping to organize copper miners. He was arrested one evening for allegedly robbing and murdering a store clerk and was convicted on very thin evidence. His only link to any foul play was a bullet hole in his right hand that was supposedly furnished by a clumsy brother-in-law, but Joe Hill refused to defend himself, choosing instead to become a martyr. The governor offered him a choice of the noose or the gun, and Joe chose the latter.
As Joan Baez sang on the night she performed at Woodstock, “It takes more than guns to kill a man – I never died, said he.” Well, he did and he didn’t.