auntie’s mothers, mother’s aunties

The Auntie Warhol Institute was pleased to have been recently provided with an obscure recording of a New York radio interview with the legendary Gene Autry, in which he discussed his recording of the labor anthem “The Death of Mother Jones“.

The following excerpt was of particular interest to the Institute:

WEAF: We understand that the origins of the song “The Death of Mother Jones” are — well, no one seems to say “anonymous”, more often people say things like “obscure“. Can you tell us anything you might know on the subject?

GA: Well, I’ll tell ya, every story I hear is just a little bit different from the last. But the gist seems to be, there was this gal at the burial, no one knew her, and she just sat alone under a nearby tree looking sad. That night a bunch of the miners got together for sort of a memorial celebration, this girl shows up and teaches everyone the words and shows the musicians how to play it. No one actually knows if she wrote it, but that’s what everyone figures. Nobody got her name, she just said she was Mary[Harris Jones, a.k.a Mother Jones]’s auntie. Of course that didn’t make a lick of sense ’cause Mother Jones was like a hundred years old, and she sure didn’t have no living aunt.

Now, Auntie Warhol is known to have lived in Nashville, Tennessee during the early 1930s, where she worked with labor organizers at the Radnor Rail Yards. But she is also rumored to have spent some time in Chicago during that same period, having some business with Al Capone’s organization (whom she is quoted as having called “a necessary evil in the face of the greater tyranny of Prohibition”). So it is certainly conceivable, indeed highly probable that she would have swung through Mount Olive for the funeral, perhaps on the road between the cities.

Mother Jones herself is reported to have met Auntie once late in her life. Molly Field Parton recounted the following in a Harper’s Magazine interview following the publication of the The Autobiography of Mother Jones:

It was the queerest thing. Mary and I were working at my place one afternoon when there was a knock on the door. I opened it to reveal this oddly dressed woman who stood there, with admiration and gratitude in her eyes, clutching a magazine with the name “Mother Jones” on the masthead. “I just want to thank Ms. Jones and give her a hug”, she said. Mary asked her about the magazine, but she was weirdly secretive about it. Said it was better for Mary not to read it, saying something I didn’t quite grasp about a time continuum. Anyway, the really strange part was as she was leaving. She looked at Mary, smiled, and said, “I will tell you this much. One day, you are going to be a real thorn in the side of a union-busting robber baron named Mitt. And if you can take him down, you just might save the damn world.

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the left bank

“I want a New Art!” she exclaimed.

The young boy looked up from his doodle quizzically at the woman who had just joined him on the Bristol park bench.

“By Art I mean Culture, of course, and by Culture I mean Art.”, she continued. “Because at their best and at their worst they are indistinguishable. But right now we’re trapped, we’re stagnated, because Culture has Art chained up like a BDSM slave on display in a cage at the Republican National Convention.”

“Art can’t smash the machine it needs for life support. The Artist is crushed by the paradigm. The book, the canvas, the album or film — you colour within the lines and create your commodity, and you might do it better than anyone, and you might make the best damn widget the world has ever known and that might be a very good thing. You may change a corner of the world and write a page in the history books. But revolution — that takes something more.”

The kid of course didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. But she was weird and funny and not much like all the adults he knew, so he just laughed and enjoyed her voice.

“I’m not really sure what I’m trying to tell you, kid. Except, don’t paint for Wall Street. Paint the Walls and Streets.”

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