Monday, April 25, 2011
RIP Hazel Dickens
Rebel music lost one of its best on Thursday. Hazel Dickens was a link between so many different points in American musical history. She was notably younger than the original folk revival generation, but her youth meant she was able to straddle the generation gap between the '30s and the wave of the '60s.
She was a West Virginian, and nobody could question her connection to the coal-miner community. Still, even as she tirelessly campaigned for the unions in the pits, she effortlessly proved that there was no contradiction between that tradition and the rising environmental movement. And, coming from a time when women were still often pushed to the back of the bus, she dared to be an open feminist, and many of her songs reflected this.
So deep was her connection to the mining communities that she appeared in two of the best-known films about the subject: Matewan and Harlan County USA.
There's plenty of reason for us to remember Hazel Dickens today. Over the past five years there have been two disastrous mine collapses here in the US. Both were non-union. Mining companies, continually trying to pitch themselves as the "safe" energy alternative, are pushing the destructive practice of strip-mining and mountaintop removal. Some shout "jobs" in the face of those like Dickens, but she knew better. She was from that same mining generation that went on wildcat strikes for black lung treatment and marched environmental protections. In short, she thought that working men and women deserved better than a choice between the greater and lesser evil. Ultimately, her songs lead us to believe that they deserve the world.