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They Killed John Henry

Justin Townes Earle
Language: English


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It seems likely that this song is about the struggle of the American laborer and the working class in industrialized society.

"Well, when John Henry died, he lay lookin' at the sun
He said 'Lord, take me now my work is done', Lord, Lord
'Lord, take me now my work is done'"


John Henry is a folk hero who is famous for his race against a steam-powered hammer, in which he raced a machine with his hammer to see who could dig a tunnel faster. While he won the race, he died of exhaustion immediately after. John Henry is often used as a symbol for the role of humans in industrialized/mechanized society. He is likely used here to symbolize the degraded worth of a human worker in a machine-based society.

"Yeah, and Joe Hill, he'd work any job he could find, boy
He'd rake your leaves and pick your vine, Lord, Lord
Rake your leaves and pick your vine
Yeah and they killed Joe Hill, put a bullet to his name
But that bullet made a martyr of the slain, Lord, Lord
Bullet made a martyr of the slain"


Joe Hill was a labor and workers' rights activist who was falsely executed for murder. His wrongful execution and the things he stood for made him a martyr and folk hero among American workers.

"Yeah, and my grandaddy worked his whole damn life
Well, he never saved a nickel though he tried, Lord, Lord
Never saved a nickel though he tried
And he died in Tennessee but he couldn't find no rest"


Even though the narrator's grandaddy worked his tail off, he was never able to achieve a comfortable and decent life. His grandaddy was a hard worker, but his struggle was so tough that even after he died he "couldn't find no rest." This is likely also a commentary on laborers and the working class being treated like dirt in an industrialized society controlled by the rich.

"Yessir, I ain't no great man, and Lord I expect
To see a long life workin' in your debt, Lord, Lord
A long life workin' in your debt"


The narrator is not a "great man," or rich person, so he expects to have a tough life as a worker in capitalist/industrialist society.

"They killed John Henry, they killed John Henry
They killed John Henry, but they won't kill me, Lord"


The song ends with the narrator showing some resolve -- as a member of the working class -- to not be treated with the same lack of decency that normally comes from the rich/elite of industrial society. John Henry was basically worked to death trying to prove his worth, and the narrator defiantly proclaims, "they killed John Henry, but they won't kill me."
songmeanings.com
Well, when John Henry died he lay lookin' at the sun
He said Lord, take me now my work is done, Lord, Lord
Lord take me now my work is done

Yeah, but when they laid him out in that box of pine, boy
They laid that hammer by his side, Lord, Lord
Laid that hammer by his side

Yeah, and Joe Hill he worked any job he could find, boy
He'd rake your leaves and pick your vine, Lord, Lord
Rake your leaves and pick your vine

Yeah, and they killed Joe Hill, put a bullet to his name
But that bullet made a martyr of the same, Lord, Lord
Bullet made a martyr of the same

Yeah, and my grand daddy worked his whole damn life
Well, he never saved a nickel though he tried, Lord, Lord
Never saved a nickel though he tried

And he died in Tennessee but he couldn't find no rest
With that long road to Texas lyin' ahead, Lord Lord
Long road to Texas lyin' ahead

Yes sir, I ain't no great man and Lord I expect to see
A long life, a workin' and you're dead, Lord, Lord
A long life, a workin' and you're dead

They killed John Henry, they killed John Henry
They killed John Henry but they won't kill me
Lord, they killed John Henry, they killed John Henry
They killed John Henry but they won't kill me

Contributed by Dq82 - 2021/2/7 - 11:33


2021
JT
JT

"J.T." non è un album come gli altri, e non potrebbe esserlo. Si dice che un figlio non dovrebbe mai morire prima di un genitore. Ecco. Justin Townes Earle è morto lo scorso 20 agosto all'età di 38 anni, Steve Earle che di anni ne ha 65 è ancora in vita.

La causa della sua morte pare sia da ricercare in una overdose del combinato cocaina/fentanil. Purtroppo l'accaduto non sorprende, Justin ha iniziato molto presto con la droga, non era neppure un teenager. Una lungo idillio che l'ha portato prematuramente alla fine della corsa. Tra le difficoltose problematiche che Justin ha dovuto affrontare nella sua esistenza, sin da subito quella di avere un padre parecchio ingombrante. Un musicista con un ego particolarmente sviluppato, non uno stinco di santo. Il rapporto tra i due quando non era assente, era a dir poco tumultuoso. In più Justin ha scelto di ripercorrere le orme del padre e di vivere di musica. Agli inizi ha anche militato, per un breve periodo, nella band di Steve, ma non era cosa e Justin aveva più di un problema nel gestire droga e lavoro, venne quindi cacciato. Poi, negli ultimi tempi, il riavvicinamento. Il rispetto e la comprensione l'uno verso l'altro, un qualcosa che si può definire rapporto. E, piace pensare, affetto.
rockol.it

Dq82 - 2021/2/7 - 11:36



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