“The Man Who Never Died” by William Adler   Leave a comment


Tuesday night I had the honor of meeting Bill Adler at King’s Book Store in Tacoma. Bill, his wife, Robin, and son, Zeke, were in the area as part of his national book tour. The event was sponsored by the local IWW, yes, the wobblies…they still exist…and are still organizing!

I hadn’t intended to be in Tacoma that night but a couple of friends were making their debut as hosts of a nearby open mic, which meant I had a free ride.  Add a dinner invitation from the remarkable singer-songwriter couple and Tacoma residents, Steve and Kristi (not Kirsty)  Nebel, my evening was set.    Local activists, Steve and Kristi were right at home at King’s Books among the wobs.

Bill had originally contacted me about singing some of Hill’s songs at his presentation at the Seattle Labor Temple, two days later.  When I emailed him my availability for Tues his reply was immediate and enthusiastic.  I immediately liked him

We met face-to-face a few minutes prior to the start of the program and quickly charted the evening’s fare.  I would open  with “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” after which he would begin the presentation by reading an excerpt from the book.  At various time in the narrative, I would sing the appropriate Joe Hill song (“Preacher and the Slave” and “Rebel Girl”).  At the conclusion, I sang “Joe Hill’s Last Will” with the music I had put to Joe’s words.  The audience demonstrated approval and Bill beamed in agreement.  Some of the audience asked us how long we had been touring together as we seemed to have played off each other so well.

Two nights later, Bill, Robin, and Zeke, along with their friends, Randy and Karen Nelson, joined my wife, Mary, and I for Chinese dinner at Tai Tung, arguably the oldest restaurant in Seattle.  Randy, of Swedish descent, was Bill’s guide and research partner in Sweden during the investigation of Hill’s early years and family life.

Enroute to the Seattle Labor Temple for the presentation, Bill asked me to perform my satirical “Tea Chantey” at the conclusion of the evening.  I had gifted the family with my “Good-bye, Dr. Laura” cd…and they had actually listened to it.  I really liked him now.

The Seattle Labor Temple is a City of Seattle historical landmark in Seattle’s thoroughly gentrified Belltown neighborhood.  Imagine the late Peter Falk, in full-press Columbo mode, adorning the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine.  That is how the Labor Temple fits into its community.

It is a series of halls, lobbies, staircases, and meeting rooms.  It smells like one of the New York City public schools I attended in the 1950’s.  So quickly did that olfactory memory overtake me that I inadvertently reached for my hall pass.

The audience this evening was more mainstream, with representatives from various trades and craft unions.  My wife, a longtime AFSCME  member, was right at home.

The show went pretty much along the same rails as the Tuesday one.  Somehow, we managed to skip “Rebel Girl.”   The audience contained various labor historian types   which doubled or tripled the number of post-narrative questions.  Bill fielded each gracefully and confidently, in the spirit of the expert comfortable in his topic.

I finished the evening  with “Tea Chantey” and debuted  my new ass-kicking, rabble-rousing new song, “Solidarity Now.”  Mary later informed me that I banged the guitar part so loud, my ass-kicking, rabble-rousing lyrics were barely audible. (“You did say you wanted me to be honest….”)

So, what did I learn?  I learned that Joe Hill understood the power of music and humor in  a movement.     It was a lesson I had learned from my musical godfather, Phil Ochs, and his predecessor, Woody Guthrie.  Joe was the archetype.  He differed only in the fact that he was not a musical performer, he was an itinerant worker.  His songs were written to be passed on…and on…and on….they were accessible to all, in their lyrics as well as in the hymns and  popular tunes of the day he set them to.

I learned that Bill Adler is one helluva journalist, writer, and storyteller as well as a great judge of cd’s.


Posted October 14, 2011 by garykanter in Uncategorized

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