The last time America was in an economic depression, a vibrant chunk of the era’s popular culture involved folk music about heroic left-wing martyrs. Alas, it’s not quite the same this time. If it was, Lady Gaga might be celebrating the legacy of Joe Hill, the Industrial Workers of the World organizer executed by a Utah firing squad in 1915—and celebrated in a classic 1930s folk song that over the years has been performed by Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, and Joan Baez. “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill” declares that the Swedish-born Wobbly never actually died, an assertion that’s especially hard to believe in these Tea Party–afflicted times. Author William M. Adler’s full-length biography of the man behind the song, The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon, explores the mystery behind his dubious death penalty conviction—and depicts a period when America’s plutocrats lived as large as they do today, but faced some significantly more dedicated foes.
Adler discusses his book at 6:30 p.m. at Busboys & Poets, 5th and K Streets NW. Free.