A Song for the Machine Worker

Feb 3, 2014

This week I am sharing an original song, titled “The Machinist’s Hymn”. This is one that I wrote for Songs of Home, pt. 1, but it did not make the recording. It remains one of my favorites of the bunch, and I may record it for the second half of the record. When I was in college I worked for the family business and would often spend time in the machine shop. I would like to say it was because I admired the work (which I do), but it was probably more because the machinists were a group of old bikers and rockers with the best stories to tell, and time to tell them as their parts would be lifted on and off the machines. The thing about machine shops, though, is that it is hard to talk because of the noise. So, while you’re close to other people all day, talk is not always easy. All the sound just seems to gather upward and get swallowed in the sound of the running machines, the cuttings of the metal, or the crane moving the parts.

So, this can leave a man to his own thoughts quite a lot. For the song, I imagine the worker reaching a point during a long shift in which he loses interest in the work, and finds it difficult to maintain concentration as his mind wanders. So, the “hymn” part is meant to bring him back to his work.:

Raw iron, cold
against the working heat.
Bearings turn like the hours
turn to days, and the days
turn to weeks.

Machine-Shop-Machinist-Hymn-2

I like the imagery here, from a poetic standpoint, with the contrast between the cold metal and the heat created by the work, as well as the metaphor of time passing with the turning of the bearings that allow the machines to run. The bearings spin fast, but glide smoothly, so the sound they create tends to be forgotten as the workers mind focuses on the work. When the worker is done making the cut, he must inspect the work to ensure that it was done right:

Calloused hands, across
metal’s grain.
Each splinter shaped away and
only the useful remain

I titled it a “hymn” because I use the metal as a sort of metaphor for self betterment. While there is no particular religion mentioned, I liken the intent of the worker with the metal to what people ask of God, to shape them from the raw human form we were born with into something useful, something purposeful, and constantly seek to remove the “splinters” that might detract from that usefulness, or endanger it entirely.

I hope that you enjoy the song, and I hope that the background info can help you to appreciate it a little more. I enjoyed writing it as I have always admired the work of the machinist, and other skilled laborers. It is that type of skilled work that framed the backbone of the country during the post depression era, and the nostalgist in me wonders if the value and appreciation of such work has been lost in the globalization of the day. Here are the complete lyrics:

The Machinist’s Hymn

There’s a song that we save
 for our longest days
 turning time card labor
 into time card pay.
And it straightens our backs
 if we stand to proclaim it,
 and holler in the ceilings
 where it dissipates.
we sing:
 Raw iron, cold,
 against the working heat.
 Bearings turn like the hours
 turn to days, and the days
 turn to weeks.
calloused hands, across
 metal’s grain,
 each splinter shaped away
 and only the useful remain.
There’s a song that we save
 for our longest days
 when those we go home to
 are still hours away
we sing in remembrance
 or we sing to erase.
 We sing into the ceilings
 where it dissipates.
we sing:
 Raw iron, cold,
 against the working heat.
 Bearings turn like the hours
 turn to days, and the days
 turn to weeks.
calloused hands, across
 metal’s grain,
 each splinter shaped away
 and only the useful remain.

 

 

3 comments

  1. Garnett Spontini says: February 3, 2014
  2. John Ross says: June 15, 2014
    • admin says: June 20, 2014

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