Don’t Mourn—Organize! Songs of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill (1990)
6. “Paper Heart” (Si Kahn and Charlotte Brody with text by David McIntosh/ © 1990 Joe Hill Music, ASCAP)
Si Kahn – guitar and vocals
Recorded by Mac Johnson, 3 February 1990 live in concert in Charleston, South Carolina.
Produced by Laura Parenteau, Edmund Robinson, Bart Saylor, and Charleston Folk.
Chorus – Christine Bellew, Jonathan Bhilliant, John Bigler, Carl Blum, Christine Bolchoz, Keith “Joe” Chobot, Greg Choplin, Glenn Fleming, Alice Gorham, Alex Graham Jr., Karen A. Graham, Starr Hazard, Carrie Heel, Chalmers Johnson, Gerry and Sandy Katz, Sara Kinard, Reese Lawton, Larry and Mary Ellen Millhouse, Laura Moses, Ezekiel and Laura Parenteau, David P. Reed, Charles and Joyce Reimers, Bonnie Ridesel, Dale and Ted Rosengarten, Carol Savage, Bart, Conway, and Maggie Jo Saylor, Repoene Sisson, Abby and Rodney Travis, Joy Wallace, Cathy Walsh, and Beth White.
“Paper Heart” recalls the paper target pinned on Joe Hill’s chest when he was executed by a firing squad. It was written in 1976 for 200 rpm, a musical history of the United States from the grassroots up. The musical was performed by the Play Group in Knoxville, Tennessee, and later by the Labor Theatre in New York and others. The song does not refer to Joe Hill by name, though the original title was “Joe Hill,” but tells the listener, “I guess you know his name.”
For Si Kahn, Joe Hill epitomizes the integrated role of union organizer, songwriter and singer. Kahn’s music publishing company, Joe Hill Music, is a constant reminder of his model. Following Joe Hill’s example, Kahn uses music as an integral part of his organizing activities, in civil rights and currently with Grassroots Leadership, always seeking to empower the outsider, the working person, and the poor. He has also written a popular book, Organizing: A Guide for Grassroots Leaders (McGraw-Hill, 1982).
Recorded songs often do not reflect the communal nature of music. Music sung in a group, whether at a union hall, in a church, or in a concert, brings an audience together with a feeling of solidarity, of collective power. In this live performance, Si Kahn taught his audience the song and then invited them to sing along—giving them the story of Joe Hill in a form they can easily carry with them and repeat, as Joe Hill wrote, over and over.
There’s a long, long line of people
Trying to keep from crying
There’s always someone dying
But today’s just not the same
There’s a man shot dead in Utah
With a paper heart pinned on him
Framed up without pardon
I guess you know his name
You say you saw him out last night
But I hear him every day
In the voices of the people
In the songs they sing and play
They framed him up and they shot him down
This whole wide world’s his burying ground
But the songs of the working people
Are his marking stone
If Heaven is One Big Union
I know that’s where I’ll find him
Playing cards with Big Bill Haywood
Telling jokes with Mother Jones
Casey Jones and long-haired preachers
Mr. Block and Scissor Bill
“Sent to hell a-flying”
By songs no one can kill
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