July 27, 2011
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Every so often I talk back to the book I’m reading. It’s fairly similar to the movie goer who calls out to the next victim in a zombie movie. Obviously that door doesn’t lead to safety! It’s where your zombified neighbor happens to be waiting patiently (if a bit peckish). Usually my outbursts come due to glaring mistakes. The misattributed quote, the obvious attempts to convey familiarity with a geographic location the author’s never visited, the horribly misspelled name, and the incredibly wrong date (particularly when it’s an easy date to look up) have all triggered a muttered outburst of “Turn back you fool!” (More accurately a simple “Wait…what? That’s not right!”)
Everybody makes mistakes and I’m certainly no exception. This means that I hold myself to a high standard when it comes to my own work. In fact, when I do mess up I tend to feel like the zombie victim: not only am I embarrassed to be caught in the gnashing embrace of Fred T. Zombie, but I’m mortified to realize that the audience was probably rooting for the zombie since I was being dumb.
This is all a long way of getting to the real reason for my post. Today’s infraction was of the wrong date variety regarding the song “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.” I’m sure the zombie victim in question considered it a throwaway comment. The song was originally written by Alfred Hayes in 1925 and turned into a song by Earl Robinson in 1936. It was not performed, as the author erroneously asserts, at Hill’s funeral in 1915. It is more romantic to think that it was 1915 though. Admittedly, the book I found it in is not likely to be the first, second, or to be honest, eighteenth source anyone wanting to find out about the song would ever look up. I may have declared vigorously that the author was wrong and went straight to some books and the internet to prove it to myself, but it certainly doesn’t count as a serious infraction.
Whatever the case, I’m grateful for the mistake in the end. Besides fodder for a post here it also prompted me to listen to the song again and gain a new appreciation for the numerous versions there are of it online.
Joan Baez at Woodstock
Pete Seeger’s banjo and accompanying singers are particularly powerful given the focus of solidarity in the song. I’m also fond of the way Seeger’s version picks up tempo in the middle.
Paul Robeson’s performance of the song is in some ways my favorite. Robeson’s voice is simply incredible and I have to say that I prefer the subdued piano accompaniment here. It seems more fitting for the mournful visit from a ghost.