You’ll Get Pie In The Sky When You Die or I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times: Four Days and Counting

Joe Hill

You will eat, bye and bye,

In that glorious land above the sky,

Work and pray, live on hay,

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

Pie In The Sky

Joe Hill was shot and killed by a Utah firing squad on November 19th, 1915. He wore no blindfold and gave the order to shoot himself.He was tried and executed for murder, but most believe it to be a severe miscarriage of justice and an absolute way to silence a troublesome labor organizer. “Pie In The Sky” was written by Hill in parody of the popular spiritual “In The Sweet By and By.” It comes from a period of great depression about which, as Alan Lomax wrote, “the western frontier had come to an end. Hundreds of thousands of men who went west to seek their fortunes found that the best lands, mining sites and tracts of timber had already been taken up. They drifted from job to job as casual laborers, living in vermin-infested bunkhouses when they had a job, and sleeping in hobo jungles when they were unemployed. The low wages and the low standards of living which their pioneer ancestors had accepted as temporary hardships along the road to personal success, now looked as if they might become permanent conditions for their whole class. The American system was not working.”

Who could have predicted that this very feeling of American disillusionment would be echoed by a lonely California boy fifty years later? Brian Wilson, the first and last American teenager, filled with angst, depression, too much love, and the unwavering belief that he simply wasn’t understood. Today back in 1966 with the release of “Pet Sounds” he quietly slipped into pop consciousness a pensive song about that very idea. He once said of “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” It’s about a guy who was crying out because he thought he was too advanced, and that he’d eventually have to leave people behind.

Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

Luke 17:36

I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times

Both of the above songs, one deeply sarcastic, one deeply sad look forward to a day when all trials will be over.

But here’s the rub: The sham of the end times preachers and their great shame is how they prey on these very real fears. At one point everyone has felt these things. To kick a man when he’s down is terrible, but to trick him into a church, to take his money, his guts, his strength, and for all of that to promise him salvation is downright nasty. There’s a NPR story of a young couple with a two year old daughter and one on the way who have budgeted their money to run out on May 21st. I don’t know what specifically has driven these young people to a church like this, what pressures they feel, what loss they’ve experienced, but I do know they’re desperately searching for something better. Not so different than Wobblies, or lonesome California teenagers. It’s pie in the sky though and I suppose they’ll eat hay come Sunday morning.

Post Script ~ Hill wrote this final poem the night before his execution.

My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide.
My kin don’t need to fuss and moan,
“Moss does not cling to a rolling stone.”

My body? Oh, if I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow,
My dust to where some flowers grow.

Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and final Will.
Good Luck to All of you, – Joe Hill


About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
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2 Responses to You’ll Get Pie In The Sky When You Die or I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times: Four Days and Counting

  1. Pingback: The Second Coming Redux; Yeats, Schulz and Me « The Real Mr. Heartache

  2. Pingback: Smush(ed) « The Real Mr. Heartache

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