New York band The Last Internationale play a rollicking blues-based style of music, all driving bass and soaring vocals. They are also the inheritors of an important American musical tradition sometimes referred to as “folk”, but which I think of as peoples history in song.
The Last Internationale are also, like many a radical artist over the last century or so, Fellow Workers.
This is not a coincidence. Many great artists have recognised the vitality and force of the Wobbly aesthetic, joined the union, and taken to the work of musical agitation over the last century or so. The Last Internationale cover other peoples songs, in a folk tradition type way, but they also write new interpretations of old stories and ideas.
November 19th 2015 is the 100th anniversary of the execution of Joe Hill, and I have been studying the way radical musicians in particular keep the Wobbly spirit and methods alive and relevant. (I’m even writing a paper on the topic)*.
The radical sociologist C Wright Mills wrote:
“I am a Wobbly, personally, down deep, and for good. I am outside the whale, and I got that way through social isolation and self-help. But do you know what a Wobbly is? It’s a kind of spiritual condition. A Wobbly is not only a man who takes orders from himself. He’s also a man who’s often in the situation where there are no regulations to fall back upon that he hasn’t made up himself. He doesn’t like bosses –capitalistic or communistic – they are all the same to him. He wants to be, and he wants everyone else to be, his own boss at all times under all conditions and for any purposes they may want to follow up. This kind of spiritual condition, and only this, is Wobbly freedom.”
“The Personal is Political” is a fine example of the Wobbly spirit in song.
“Bury me tomorrow if I happen to leave
Don’t feel no sorrow, just fight to be free.”
In other words, “Don’t Mourn- Organize”!
Art, particularly music, recreates and reinforces the sense of solidarity in a group. Songwriting is at the same time an effective organising and educational tool for social change. The Last Internationale have taken this knowledge, this history, and poured it into their own creative output. They agitate, they educate- and they rock.
To quote Bill Ayers (and The Last Internationale bio page):
“They have a story to tell, a thousand stories really, echo after echo from long ago and from just a minute past, reverberations booming toward an uncertain future and ricocheting back at us, refrains from the rough but lovely localities of the wretched of the earth to the hard boundaries of lost and disappearing things. Every line calls us together and invites us to create, each gestures toward a world that could be but is not yet; every note offers another door you might squeeze through in search of the rest of your life. Turn the knob, slip the lip, dive headfirst into the wreckage—now there you are.”
You can do that here, or buy their albums on the bandcamp link above.