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Posted May 7, 2008
In The Big Red Songbook, Archie Green, David Roediger, Franklin Rosemont, and Salvatore Salerno have thoughtfully documented 20th Century Wobbly song in all of its foot-stompin¿ glory. In 1909, the Spokane branch of the International Workers of the World, compiled twenty-four songs into a little red book called Songs of the Industrial Workers of the World, with the intention ¿to destroy the old myths that have enslaved us for so long. We will have songs that hold up flaunted wealth and threadbare morality to scorn, songs that lampoon our masters.¿ '3' The Big Red Songbook documents all the songs of revolt from 1909-1973, many that were not included in the first go round, provides extensive bibliographies and references, a discography, and even a glossary for decoding the ¿vernacular surrealisms¿ of hobo-slang and radical industrial unionism. Some trailblazing and extensive documentary histories occasionally steer readers through a historical narrative with an authoritative voice asserting agenda and ownership over previously undocumented treasures, such as the songs and ephemera of the IWW. Thus, alienating methodological strategies of this nature betray the profoundly collaborative work of unearthing silenced voices within history. But, from the get-go, Big Red Songbook sets itself light years apart from such dominant trends in historical writing, and readers can sense the editors¿ commitment to doing everything in their power to unravel the boss-man tactics of ¿state-sanctioned¿ history. Specifically, Songbook challenges Scissorbill-centric historical trends with an engaging dialogue forged through the adroit editorial narrative of Green, Roediger, Rosemont and Salerno, as they reconstruct a forgotten history. Throughout the book, readers are consistently called upon to help with piecing together the topography of a big radical puzzle by sharing pieces of information and contributing distinctive voices to the milieu. In trying to unearth an erased legacy of embodied radicalism, how do historians read a radical trajectory as pure Wobbly? As Archie Green wonders, ¿Who decides the contours of Wobbly belief?¿ '7' Furthermore, what constitutes evidence amidst an oppositional historiography? After the US government raided the IWW offices in 1918-1919, documentation of the editorial process behind the original songbooks is far gone. Therefore, the Big Red Songbook is comprised largely of oral histories and salvaged ephemera. The folks involved in the production of the Songbook skillfully address and analyze the gaps in representation and basic biography, while simultaneously combating the nominal re-presentation which resulted directly from the government raids. Moreover, in understanding that women, African-Americans, and non-English speaking songwriters are few-and-far-between in the original songbooks, the Songbook editors fully account for the absence and, most importantly, consistently encourage historians, folklorists, and radical enthusiasts to investigate further: to listen closely for the reverb of the song and keep an eye open for radical voices embodied. Once readers are immersed in the actual song section of the book, each songwriter, whether Fellow Worker syndicalists, two-carding hobo-poets, or accordion touting feminist organizers, is situated within a larger socio-political context with IWW activism at the core. Eugene Barnett, Dick Brazier, Ralph Chaplin, Covington Hall, Joe Hill, and T-Bone Slim believed in the emancipatory power of their songs and were prolific in their contributions to the songbooks over the years. Of course, this is just a small selection of luminaries amidst an extensive list of Wobbly contributors fully represented in the book. The Songbook brings to light many of the women Wobblies who were minimally represented and seeks help, once again, from readers in telling the stories of so many women activists pushed to the sidelines. Mary Marcy, Laura Payne Emerson, Jane StrWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.