Saturday, May 14, 2011

Haywire Mack: "No one who can sing need ever go hungry."

Harry Kirby McClintock aka "Haywire Mack" was born in Knoxville, Tennessee on October 8, 1882. He ran away from home at the young age of 14 to join the circus, and never stopped traveling after that. His love of railroading started at a young age and he instantly took to the tracks. He was a world traveler, being said to have traveled through Africa and working as a railroad switchman in Rhodesia. He also spent time in China, Australia, and the Philippines. One story about him says that Haywire Mack, dressed like Santa Claus in a cowboy suit with a guitar, liked to walk through the wards of Children's Hospital in San Francisco singing "Big Rock Candy Mountain." Haywire Mack also once worked as a civilian mule-train packer during the Spanish-American War supplying American troops with food and ammunition. Pretty much, you name an occupation, and he did it. He formed the Haywire Orchestra, one of the first cowboy bands in America. His legacy continues on today as his songs are still part of our culture in ways. The song "Big Rock Candy Mountain" was featured in the film O Brother Where Art Tho? (2000) and I remember also being taught a family-friendly version of the song in elementary school. Haywire Mack is also said to be the first person to publicly perform the song The Preacher and The Slave by Joe Hill.

I think knowing about people such as Haywire Mack is important for understanding our own roots and the past of our country. I think preserving our long memory requires knowing where our traditions, such as songs, came from. It was also interesting to me to know that Haywire Mack was a man who worked hard, had lots of life experiences, and sang from those experiences, not just his imagination. I have great respect for singers like him who have lived through many things, unlike many of the singers from today who make up songs they dream up and have never had to really struggle through anything in life. I'm glad we are learning about people such as him because it helps build the connection of Haywire Mack influencing Utah Phillips, who influenced other singers and so on and so forth. It shows me how our past really never goes away, and still helps shape today.

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