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Pete and Steve’s Hammer

November 28, 2009

(If I Had A Hammer album cover)

Steve Earle is one of the most famous rockabilly country singer/songwriters of all time, and has recorded numerous chart topping records. His early work, Copper Head Road in particular, put him on the map, but by the early ’90s, like all good folk singers, his serious drug addiction and abuse landed him in jail. After his release, he quickly produced Train A Comin’, a more bluegrassy version of his older self. In 2007, he released the wonderful Washington Square Serenade, and most recently, Townes, a tribute to his hero and long time friend Townes Van Zandt. Earle’s music has always been politically charged, but post prison, it has escalated in opinion. His album Jerusalem, loudly opposes war in Iraq, and many other songs speak strongly to his far left political opinions.

On Washington Square Serenade, is the song Steve’s Hammer (for Pete). I remember the first time I heard this song. It is driving and passionate and truly a work of art, and although I didn’t know it at the time, I see now what it refers to. I saw him in concert a few months ago, and it was there that I learned that Pete was Pete Seeger. While searching for a subject for a closing post, I was listening to my ipod on shuffle and there it was.

One of these nights I’m gonna sing a different tune
All night long beneath the silvery moon
When the war is over and the union’s strong
Won’t sing no more angry songs
One of these nights I’m gonna sing a different tune

Someday when my struggle’s through
I won’t have to strive
Until then all I can do
Is let my hammer fly

One of these days I’m gonna lay this hammer down
Leave my burden restin’ on the ground
When the air don’t choke ya and the ocean’s clean
And kids don’t die for gasoline
One of these days I’m gonna lay this hammer down

This song is a testament to the never failing union and the strength of working people to persevere through the years of struggle. The reason musicians continually resurrect old union songs is not necessarily because they are wonderful works of music, it is because they are still valid. If we keep singing union songs of protest, then someday we may not need to. If we continue to look toward the day when we can lay down our angry words, the day will come.

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