Don’t Mourn—Organize! Songs of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill (1990)
8. “Mr. Block” (words: Joe Hill, music: “It Looks to Me Like a Big Time Tonight” / 1913)
Mats Paulson – guitar and vocals
Recorded 1 October 1968 at Europa Film Studio.
Produced by Gunnar Bergstrom
From Songs and Letters of Joe Hill (Sonet SLP20), originally released in Sweden 1968.
“Mr. Block,” a comic strip character created by Ernest Riebe, first appeared in the I.W.W.’s Industrial Worker on 7 November 1912 as a weekly strip, deriding the values that blocked working class emancipation. On 13 January 1913, Joe Hill’s song appeared in place of the strip, recounting several episodes from previous strips. Only two weeks prior to the song’s publication, Riebe had workers in the strip all singing Joe Hill’s “Everybody’s Joining It,” a parody of Irving Berlin’s “Everybody’s Doing It Now.” An opening line like “Please give me your attention” (“Mr. Block”) or “Fellow Workers pay attention to what I’m going to mention” (“Where the Fraser River Flows”), could be used in street singing to demand attention as the singer began.
Mats Paulson was not the first to sing Joe Hill’s songs in Sweden, but Paulson was the first to record them in the original English versions. He learned the songs from Joe Glazer’s Songs of Joe Hill (Folkways FA 2039). He tells the story: “In 1972 a tall American stood outside my door. ‘Are you Mats Paulson? I’m Joe Glazer.’ I couldn’t believe it! Joe Glazer! It was Joe Glazer, my Joe Hill song teacher.” Glazer had learned of Paulson from Songs and Letters of Joe Hill (Sonet SLP 20). When Glazer went through Sweden on a tour with the United States Information Agency, they visited the house in Gӓvle where Hill had grown up. In 1968, when Paulson released the record, Joe Hill was well known throughout the country. Paulson sang extensively for the Swedish labor party and also travelled with an exhibit on Hill. During this time he sang the songs for his wife’s 90-year old grandfather, who told Paulson he had worked in the U.S. for forty years (on the Southern Pacific railroad, like Casey Jones) and he had met Joseph Hillstrom. Mats Paulson is a painter and songwriter who has released 16 records, most of his own songs and poetry. One of his songs, “A Summerwind and an Open Window,” was performed on Broadway in 1989.
The verses market (*) are not sung here.
Please give me your attention, I’ll introduce to you
A man that is a credit to “Our Red, White and Blue”;
His head is made of lumber and solid as a rock;
He is a common worker, and his name is Mr. Block.
And Block he thinks he may be President some day.
Oh, Mr. Block, you were born by mistake,
You take the cake,
You make me ache.
Tie a rock to your block and then jump in the lake,
Kindly do that for Liberty’s sake.
Yes, Mr. Block is lucky; he found a job, by gee!
The sharks got seven dollars, for job and fare and fee.
They shipped him to a desert and dumped him with his truck,
But when he tried to find his job, he sure was out of luck,
He shouted, “That’s too raw. I’ll fix them with the law.”
Block hiked back to the city but wasn’t doing well.
He said, “I’ll join the union—the great A. F. of L.”
He got a job next morning, got fired in the night.
He said, “I’ll see Sam Gompers and he’ll fix that foreman right.”
Sam Gompers said, “You see, you’ve got our sympathy.”*
Election day he shouted, “A Socialist for Mayor!”
The “comrade” got elected, he happy was for fair,
But after the election, he got an awful shock,
A great big socialistic Bull did rap him on the block.
And Comrade Block did sob, “I helped him to his job.”*
The money kings in Cuba blew up the gunboat Maine,
But Block got awful angry and blamed it all on Spain.
He went right in the battle and there he lost his leg,
And now he’s peddling shoestrings and is walking on a peg.
He shouts, “Remember Maine. Hurrah! To hell with Spain.”
Poor Block, he died one evening, I’m very glad to state,
He climbed the golden ladder up to the pearly gate.
He said, “Oh, Mr. Peter, one word I’d like to tell,
I’d like to meet the Astorbilts and John D. Rockefell.”
Old Pete said, “Is that so? You’ll meet them down below.”
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