What labor songs might Captain America have known?
March 12, 2015 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Then I thought, hrm, a lot of what I know out of the Little Red Songbook is quite possibly more recent: what portion of it would Steve know? Long story short (you should all know how I roll by now), this has led to a week of researching the shit out of things to date particular songs, then listening carefully to as many versions of them as I could find to find the version that would be closest to the version Steve would've known it as. And the next thing I knew, I had a mix.
posted by sciatrix (19 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
As far as mainstream comics canon goes, Steve worked as an artist for the WPA. This has been clearly and explicitly established. He was a big supporter of FDR. The Cap established by Marvel (not 1940s Cap, which sometimes fell into some of the same tropes as a lot of wartime propaganda) was also very clearly an equality-politics sort of guy. He's not far left on every policy -- he's very clearly a supporter of a strong military establishment, for example.

In the end, he has a mix of views from both "sides," which really makes him pretty typically American. I'm a little sad that this didn't show through in the films quite as clearly as it has in the comics, but I can't say I'm at all surprised.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:09 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

One thing's for sure... Joseph Tarm would be assured of taking a shield blow for his use of Horst Wessel.
posted by fairmettle at 9:24 AM on March 12, 2015

I disagree. Cap would be disgusted, sure, and maybe have a lot to say about it, but he doesn't meet non-violence with violence.

Of course, in a comic book, it's just as likely that Tarm's piece would've hypnotically brainwashed everyone in the audience into becoming violent Nazis, and then we'd have a different story...
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:31 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

One interesting thing to consider is what Rogers, or at least the movie version, would think of communism and socialism. Recall he was in the ice in 44, and wasn't de-meat-popcicled until after 2010, and so missed many of the ideas that make up base assumptions of right-left politics in the US now: The Eisenhower's warning on the industrial-military complex, McCarthy's HUAC and Red Scares and the whole Cold War.

In his experience, Stalin was, if not a good guy, a steady ally. Steve is unlikely to have visceral "anti-communist" feelings. Natasha (and Bucky) must feel like aliens to him much of the time.
posted by bonehead at 9:34 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, there's no way Cap would have been a socialist, but definitely growing up in very pro-union NYC I'm sure he would have been intimately familiar with some of the bigger union songs. But I think arguments that he would have known the Wobbly songs may fall short - because, as mentioned in #7, how Big Labor and the IWW thought of each other was, shall we say, not friendly in the least.
posted by corb at 9:36 AM on March 12, 2015

Now, Mr. President,
We haven't always agreed in the past, I know,
But that ain't at all important now.
What is important is what we got to do,
We got to lick Mr. Hitler, and until we do,
Other things can wait.

Now, as I think of our great land . . .
I know it ain't perfect, but it will be someday,
Just give us a little time.

This is the reason that I want to fight,
Not 'cause everything's perfect, or everything's right.
No, it's just the opposite: I'm fightin' because
I want a better America, and better laws,
And better homes, and jobs, and schools,
And no more Jim Crow, and no more rules like
"You can't ride on this train 'cause you're a Negro,"
"You can't live here 'cause you're a Jew,"
"You can't work here 'cause you're a union man."

So, Mr. President,
We got this one big job to do
That's lick Mr. Hitler and when we're through,
Let no one else ever take his place
To trample down the human race.
So what I want is you to give me a gun
So we can hurry up and get the job done.

That's Pete Seeger's solo in Dear Mr. President, sung by the Almanacs. It may have been Seeger, but there's a lot of Cap in there too. Was he, would he have been a socialist? Maybe not, but he wasn't far off either.
posted by bonehead at 9:46 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Not a labor song—more an official propaganda tune—but this is a good excuse to remind us all of the existence of Stalin Wasn't Stallin' (A Modern Spiritual), by a gospel quartet.
posted by kenko at 9:51 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think this is stretching pretty hard in some places, actually - for example, in #8, I think it's more likely that he would have known and sung the popular Casey Jones than the rather mean-spirited parody of it - I can't exactly imagine Cap taking delight in sabotage that resulted in a death, even before the war. It's not in the character of the upright neighborhood boy who is prevented by lack of physical strength from being a hero. Cap in many ways has always been striving for heroism, and we have never seen him attempting to tear heroes down.

Much more likely union songs for Cap to be familiar with I think would be:

Which Side Are You On - popular enough to stretch to working-class Brooklyn and I'm actually shocked it wasn't included, combined with a catchy tune and clear good-and-evil framing - definitely.

We Shall Not Be Moved - again, catchy, popular, uplifting - which I think really has to be the key to which union songs Steve would have picked up - and well used.

I could also see an argument for songs like Cotton Mill Girls - songs of complaint but not of violence.

Definitely things like "Eight Hour Day". I do agree of course on big ones like Solidarity Forever, but I think some of these are a stretch - what someone might know, but not Steve particularly.
posted by corb at 9:53 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

In his experience, Stalin was, if not a good guy, a steady ally.

Ah good this makes my "Stalin Wasn't Stallin'" link at least slightly more relevant.
posted by kenko at 9:56 AM on March 12, 2015

Yeah, I was amazed to discover on American Movie Classics one day (the old American Movie Classics that ran mostly obscure RKO movies, two of them a day, repeating one then the other all day long) a war-era propaganda film with Gregory Peck as a heroic Russian communist fighting a guerilla war against the Nazis.

Trying to imagine that movie being made just three years later. Frankly I'm amazed it didn't sink Peck's career through the 50s.
posted by Naberius at 10:33 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Solidarity Forever // Solidarity Sing Along . . .This is my one exception to 'use a song with a version of the lyrics that Steve would have known', because I couldn't not follow 'Joe Hill' with this recording, even though they sing the contemporary words."

I'm glad synecdochic decided to make an exception, because that's a very moving, powerful recording, and it fits perfectly at the end of this mix.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 10:43 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like to think he would know all of them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:47 AM on March 12, 2015

Ooh, I'm really excited to listen to this, although I too don't totally buy the socialist Steve theory. I really like synecdochic's mixes - a lot of the tracks from her et lux perpetua luceat eis mix from 2007 are still on my regular rotation. It's nice to be able to read her thoughts on each track too.
posted by capricorn at 12:01 PM on March 12, 2015

I like to imagine that Sarah Rogers campaigned for Debs and Joseph Rogers was a Wobbly, so this is fantastic. Can I add Bread and Roses? This version is recent (from the movie Pride, which you should ALL GO SEE), but it's gorgeous, and now I'm imagining wee asthmatic baby Steve hearing it as a lullabye.
posted by nonasuch at 12:14 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Steve is unlikely to have visceral "anti-communist" feelings.

Indeed, contemporary war correspondents remarked, upon meeting rank-and-file Soviet soldiers, that U.S. soldiers thought they were generally good people and good soldiers. Steven Ambrose, in Band of Brothers, wrote that the Americans of Easy Company actually felt more kinship with Soviet (and even defeated German) soldiers than with French and British soldiers, whom they often considered ineffective and with competing agendas.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:15 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I want to read a comic about what happens when Sam and Steve start showing up to sing at labor rallies so bad right now.
posted by EatTheWeek at 1:31 PM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

This counterfactual as a way of reclaiming the american left, is pretty fantastic. I keep wondering what Steve would make of queer and femminist discourses--that passed him by a lot too.
posted by PinkMoose at 3:58 PM on March 12, 2015

This inspired me to look up more information about Joe Hill. I didn't know anything besides "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night". Wikipedia has his will, which is quite lovely:
My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide.
My kin don't need to fuss and moan,
"Moss does not cling to a rolling stone."

My body? Oh, if I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow,
My dust to where some flowers grow.

Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and final Will.
Good Luck to All of you,
Joe Hill
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:58 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

The guy who wrote "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night" also wrote some really great and rather intense novels.
posted by kenko at 5:23 PM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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