Joe Worker

"Joe Worker" is a song from Marc Blitzstein's 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock. The show was produced under the auspices of the Federal Theatre Project, a New Deal effort to put actors and writers back to work during the Depression. However, when authorities found out about the politics of the show, they pulled the plug on it. So, Blitzstein – and his director Orson Welles, and producer John Houseman – rented another theater, and the cast members sang their parts from the audience, while Blitzstein sat alone onstage playing the score on an upright piano.

--Miriam Lewin

Date: 1937Composer: Marc BlitzsteinText: Marc Blitzstein

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Lyrics by Marc Blitzstein

Listen, here’s a story.
Not much fun and not much glory,
low class, low down;
The thing you never care to see until there is a showdown.
Here it is, I’ll make it snappy.
Are you ready? Everybody happy?

Joe Worker gets gypped.
For no good reason, just gypped.
From the start until the finish comes,
They feed him out of garbage cans,
they breed him in the slums.
Joe Worker will go
to shops where stuff is on show.
He’ll look at the meat, he’ll look at the bread;
And too little to eat sort of goes to the head.
One big question inside me cries:
How many fakers, peace undertakers, paid strike-breakers,
how many toiling, ailing, dying piled up bodies, brother,
does it take to make you wise?

Joe Worker just drops.
Right at his workin’ he drops.
Weary, weary, tired to the core,
And then if he drops out of sight,
there’s always plenty more.
Joe Worker must know that somebody’s got him in tow,
But what is the good for one to be clear?
O, it takes a lot of Joes to make a sound you can hear!
One big question inside me cries:
How many frame-ups, how many shakedowns, lockouts, sell-outs,
how many times machine guns tell the same old story, brother,
does it take to make you wise?

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