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The Dying Miner

Woody Guthrie
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[1947]
Lyrics by Woody Guthrie
Music: sung to the tune of “Give Me Three Grains of Corn, Mother”
Album: Struggle [1990]


On March 25th, around 3:30 p.m., a great explosion rocked Centralia Coal Company Mine Number 5 (Wikipedia, Centralia mine disaster).
In the aftermath, rescuers brought out eight wounded miners, but over a hundred workers remained underground, their condition unknown. In freezing weather, rescue teams worked around the clock to free those still enclosed while their families gathered at the mouth of the mine. In the end, these efforts and the families’ prayers went unrewarded; all of the missing 111 miners were found dead. But the body count alone did not attract national media attention; for it soon came to light that both state and federal mine inspectors had warned of the mine’s hazardous condition less than week before the disaster. In fact, the state inspector accused Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals Director Robert Merrill of ignoring repeated negative reports on the Centralia mine. As a result of the disaster and the controversy about it, a Senate sub-committee investigated. At the end of these hearings, the chair stated, “If there has been one thing shown to this committee, it has been that there was gross negligence here in the handling of safety conditions” at Centralia.

In a spurt of creative energy on April 1, 1947, Guthrie wrote 3 songs detailing this disaster and published them the next month in the progressive folksong magazine People’s
Songs:
1) “Talking Miner”(“Talking Centralia”).
2) “The Dying Miner” (“Goodbye Centralia”)
3) “Miner's Kids and Wives”(“Waiting at the Gate”)

Here we present the second song , which describes where the story reaches its most dramatic and moving point: one coal miner's death… one too many... In the first verse, this narrator sets the scene by telling us that only an hour ago “The gas caught fire from somebody's lamp/And the miners are choking in smoke.” Although the explosion actually resulted when an overcharged blast set off excessive coal dust in the mine, this error stands as the only major one in the song. Part of the reason for the song’s accuracy comes from Guthrie’s use of the miners’ notes to their families; for of the one hundred and eleven miners who died, fourteen survived long enough underground to write notes to their families and friends. In an endnote to this song, Guthrie explains, “I got the idea for writing these words as I turned into the papers and read some of the words to the letters the trapped miners wrote to their families and friends.” In fact, this song generally follows the form of a last letter. In it, the narrator says good-bye to his children and wife, then to the rest of his family, and finally to his town itself:
Goodbye to Dickey and Honey
Goodbye to the wife that I love
A lot of these men are not coming home
Tonight when the work whistle blows.
Dear sisters and brothers, Goodbye,
Dear mother and father, Goodbye,
My fingers are weak and I cannot write
Goodbye, Centralia, Goodbye.

The men realize that their end is near and write out their final thoughts: “We’re all writing letters to children we love,/Please carry our word to our wives.” To get to a short-lived safe haven,
they “crawled and drag ourselves here.” But still “the smoke is bad and the fumes coming in/And the gas is burning my eyes.”
In his letter, the narrator asks, “Forgive me for things I done wrong/I love you lots more than you know.” But the theme he returns to again and again is that the ones left behind need
to work to make sure that no other miner will die. He asks, “Just work and fight and try to see/That this never happens again.” But in the final verse, he begs, “Please name our new
baby Joe/So he’ll grow up like big Joe.” This child, he wishes, will “work and he’ll fight to fix up the mines/So fires can’t kill daddies no more.” Much like the writer of “Dream of a Miner’s Child,” Guthrie uses a child as a means of grabbing sympathy for the miners... However, Joe’s children do not have a premonition which keeps their father from suffering from death in the mine...
It happened an hour ago,
Way down in this tunnel of coal,
Gas caught fire from somebody's lamp.
And the miners are choking in smoke.

Goodbye to Dickie and Honey,
Goodbye to the wife that I love,
Lot of these men not coming home,
Tonight when the work whistle blows.

Dear sisters and brothers goodbye,
Dear mother and father goodbye.
My fingers are weak and I cannot write,
Goodbye Centralia, goodbye...

It looks like the end for me,
And all of my buddies I see.
We're all writing letters to children we love,
Please carry our word to our wives.

We, found a little place in the air,
Crawled and drug ourselves here.
But the smoke is bad and the fumes coming in,
And the gas is burning my eyes.

Dear sisters and brothers goodbye,
Dear mother and father goodbye.
My fingers are weak and I cannot write,
Goodbye Centralia, goodbye.

Forgive me for the things I done wrong,
I love you lots more than you know.
When the night whistle blows and I don't come home,
Do all that you can to help mom.

I can hear the moans and groans,
More than a hundred good men.
Just work and fight and try to see,
That this never happens again..

Dear sisters and brothers goodbye,
Dear mother and father goodbye.
My fingers are weak and I cannot write,
Goodbye Centralia, goodbye..

My eyes are blinded with fumes,
But it sounds like the men are all gone,
'cept Joe Valentini, Fred Gussler and George,
Trapped down in this hell hole of fire.

Please name our new baby Joe,
So he'll grow up like big Joe.
He'll work and he'll fight and he'll fix up the mines,
So fire can't kill daddy no more.

Dear sisters and brothers goodbye,
Dear mother and father goodbye.
My fingers are weak and I cannot write,
Goodbye, Centralia, goodbye.

inviata da giorgio - 20/4/2010 - 13:06



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