STARLIGHT ON THE RAILS / AND OTHER Songs
Continued from main page....Why? Well, you see, after my father’s unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1968 and his subsequent blacklisting, coupled with the inevitable closing of the Joe Hill House and the divorce from my mother several years earlier, he was prompted to leave Utah. Over the years and decades that followed, that songbook became my only tangible connection to my father. Oh, we would both write the occasional letter but not much more; it wasn’t anybody’s fault, it’s just the way the cards fell. But I had that songbook. I would thumb through it from time to time, stop at a song and do what children do best: daydream of where he might be and what great adventures he must surely be on.
In the spring of 2008, following several conversations with my father, and with the help and support of Ken Sanders, I started working on the book’s republication. My father passed away in May of the same year. In working on the book, it didn’t take long for two things to became readily apparent: one, that this project was going to take much longer that I thought it would, and two, the book had to be larger than its original ninety six pages... oh, and a third thing: I knew nothing about publishing a book. Early on we made the decision to combine the songs and stories from the original book with the songs and stories from the four-CD box set into one, no holds barred, granddaddy of a songbook. Much like my father, I think this book will mean something different to everyone. Some folks will love it for the stories; stories from agribusiness and the water wars of the late 1800s' as told in “Dog Canyon,” to stories of hobo jungles, riding the rails, and living on the skids. Stories of my father’s early years at the Joe Hill House in Salt Lake City, where he first met Ammon Hennacy and began the long journey towards understanding what it meant to be a pacifist.
Other folks will cherish this book for the songs; songs of growing old and having your work run out on you. Songs about the shinning airplane “Enola Gay.” Songs of old friends like the legendary Spanish Civil War veteran pianist, Eddie Balchowsky, and tramp friends like Hood River Blackie and Mark Ross. This book still covers all of the standards such as “The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia,” “The Goodnight-Loving Trail,” and “Rocksalt and Nails,” but it has few hidden gems as well. Songs like “Rice and Beans,” a song about the disappeared children in Nicaragua during the Somoza’s dictatorship, and “Pig Hollow,” the story of an old tramp jungle on the outskirts of Ogden, Utah, long since burned down by the law. This book has it all: the stories of people and places, times and events, two million-plus miles traveled over forty-plus years tramping his country; our country. But to me, it will still be a little, brown, tattered, ninety-six page security blanket.
Salt Lake City, Utah