released May 25, 2000
All songs copyright 1999 all rights reserved
All songs by Tom Flannery except
“The Breaker” by Lorne Clarke and “Always Out of Sight” by Tom Flannery and Lorne Clarke
acoustic guitar, vocals
piano, organ, melodica
mandolin, dobro, banjo, 12 string acoustic guitar and background vocals on “Back in the Valley”
lead vocals on “My Little Boy in the Mines”, background vocals on “We’ll Sing Hallelujah” and “The Breaker”
lead vocals on “Miner Boy”
background vocals on “Two Coal Cars”
lead vocals on “Why Do You Blame Me?”
co-lead vocal on “We’ll Burn With the Anthracite”
lead vocals on “The Breaker”
Produced by George Graham
Recorded at WVIA-FM Studios, Pittston Pa.
When I was a boy my great Uncle used to visit us every Sunday. He was a short man, and looking back he may have been self-conscious about it ‘cause I never remember him standing up. He just used to appear in the corner living room chair at the appointed hour, like an apparition. His hair as white as fresh snow, with a head always partially concealed by cigar smoke, for back then you could light up a good cigar and not be attacked by mobs accusing you of wanting to kill everybody.
He never said much, which was not unusual in our house. Yet because of this words were particularly prized. So sometimes he’d tell stories of his days in the mines. And me, being a stupid kid with much more important things to do, would half listen….more interested in the football game on the TV. But soon he’d begin to cough, and that you had to listen to. It was a cough that shook the walls, and drowned out the game. So the house would stop…and wait for the coughing to cease. And it would, with the throat in question being administered to by a long gulp of Yuengling beer. And then he was good to go again. If anybody was ever bothered by this I never knew about it. The coughing was part of the Sunday routine, treated like a train running past the house at its appointed hour.
Of course my great Uncle was dying slowly in that chair, his years in the mines having set the table for these moments long before. The dust got a hold of him just as it had many others. It made no distinction. Irish, Polish, Italians, it ravaged them all equally and without mercy. And he was one of the last ones to go. He had a wealth of knowledge and stories that I now know he wanted to share. But nobody was listening, so he grew quieter and quieter. And then one Sunday the chair was empty.
Years later I decided to write a song cycle dealing with the Anthracite heritage my family shares. But where to start? Every time I sat with pen and paper I was haunted by what I could have learned. What questions I could have asked. My own link to the past that I wanted to re-create used to sit in my parents house and talk, and all I could do was turn the TV up louder so I didn’t miss any of Curt Gowdy’s play by play.
But I trudged on regardless and wrote, with the sound of the Lackawanna river running past my window serving as accompaniment. I wrote about rogues and heroes, women and children, death and life….and men toiling in darkness so others could glimpse the sun.
What I hope comes through, more than anything else, is pride. So many people around here seem to turn away from their anthracite heritage, as if it is something to be ashamed of. Perhaps the dirt, the sweat, the drink, are too rough around the edges for some. Perhaps seeing the town referred to as a “long dead coal town” over and over again sends some to the Wal-Mart to buy a shovel big enough to bury the past once and for all.
To hell with that. These men and women and children are heroes to me. All they asked for was a fair shake, and when they didn’t get it they pushed back. Hard.
There was nothing glamorous or glorious about their struggle. It was easy to distort events and bring the wrath of the general public down on them. But they were certainly used to this kind of thing, which is something that the captains of industry never really understood. And though their faith sometimes wavered, they were never broken…
Maybe down in the darkness
the good Lord just can’t see
so I just gotta tell Him
that his coal is killing me
The reverberations of this struggle still resonate today, and there is not a man or woman living in this valley who doesn’t owe thanks.So have a nice long gulp of Yuengling and enjoy. I’ve done the best I can do, and I only hope that I have served a memory well.
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