Here’s To You – Joan Baez

Life can be destroyed, but ideas can't.

The song Here’s To You, music by Italian composer and Oscar winner Ennio Morricone and lyrics by American singer and musician Joan Baez, was released in 1971,  and was included in the original soundtrack of the film “Sacco e Vanzetti” directed by Giuliano Montaldo. The music piece is dedicated to the unfair death penalty inflicted to two Italian anarchists in 1927, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, and remains one of the most meaningful songs written to highlight the importance of freedom, in particular of thought and speech.

The two Italians first arrived in the United States in 1908; coming from different parts of Italy, they didn’t know each other although their first years in the “Promise Land” had much in common. As most of the European immigrants at that time, they were employed in a number of different jobs in Massachusetts, until they settled, Sacco as a shoemaker and Vanzetti as a fishmonger. They came to know each other only in 1917, when both became involved in the anarchist movement led by Luigi Galleani, also publisher of the periodical “Subversive Chronicle” which advocated violent revolution to support social justice. Sacco and Vanzetti actively participated in workers’ demonstrations and fought for better working conditions as trade union members.

During the First World War they escaped to Mexico with the Italian-American organization led by Galleani to avoid conscription. What they didn’t know was that the whole organization, including their names, had been put in the United States government’s list of dangerous enemies, marking the beginning of a proper witch hunt in the US, also known as the  “red scare”,  that characterized the whole period after WW1. Between 1919 and 1920 sixty thousand activists were filed and in January 1920 ten thousand of them were arrested in raids in more than 35 cities.

In that same year Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested for possession of anarchist material and guns. Few days later they were accused of the robbery and murder of two men transporting the Slater-Morrill Shoe Company’s payroll to the main factory. The murder had happened few weeks before their arrest.

After three trials, Nick and Bart, as they were known in America, were sentenced to death, despite of the lack of evidence, and even after the confession of Puerto Rican Celestino Madeiros of being the author of the crime.

The verdict is a sad example of how bureaucracy had chosen two men, considered guilty for their ideas, as scapegoats of a politics of terror anti-Communism typical of US government in the twenties. This sentence was the source of many protests, from people on the streets, to the Italian government, to internationally recognized intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, Dorothy Parker, and Bertrand Russell.

Exactly 50 years later, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis officially recognized the mistakes made during the trial and restored Sacco and Vanzetti’s honor.

The tragic death of the two anarchists on the electric chair on August 23rd, 1927, pushed many individuals from the cinema, music and theater scene to use their story in their productions, and in the wake of this Joan Baez used part of Vanzetti’s last speech:

“If it had not been for these things, I might have live out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have die, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man’s understanding of man as we now do by accident. Our words—our lives—our pains—nothing! The taking of our lives—lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler—all! That last moment belongs to us—that agony is our triumph.”

The repetition of the phrase is a sort of mantra, which needs to be remembered for the thousands of people that still today sacrifice their lives in the name of what they believe. The characters of Sacco and Vanzetti will remain symbols of coherence, because they not once regretted their actions and values.

Hers’s to you was also used for the Amnesty International’s campaign to report the continuing violation of human rights, featuring Italian writer and journalist Roberto Saviano, who was forced to leave Italy due to his strong accusation against mafia-like organization Camorra and who now lives under guard. As demonstrated by the recent released of Albert Woodfox from the so called Angola Prison in Louisiana, who fought to improve the conditions within the prison and to end widespread rape and violence, the fight for justice is not over yet, but it needs our voice to be won.

Lyrics

Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart
Rest forever here in our hearts
The last and final moment is yours
That agony is your triumph

Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart
Rest forever here in our hearts
The last and final moment is yours
That agony is your triumph

Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart
Rest forever here in our hearts
The last and final moment is yours
That agony is your triumph

Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart
Rest forever here in our hearts
The last and final moment is yours
That agony is your triumph

Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart
Rest forever here in our hearts
The last and final moment is yours
That agony is your triumph

Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart
Rest forever here in our hearts
The last and final moment is yours
That agony is your triumph

Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart
Rest forever here in our hearts
The last and final moment is yours
That agony is your triumph

Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart
Rest forever here in our hearts
The last and final moment is yours
That agony is your triumph

Here’s To You – Joan Baez
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Sounds from the Bucket
Francesca Aloisio

Francesca is both an International Relations graduate and a dancer living in Rome. She is particularly interested in international issues, intercultural learning and culture sharing, as well as music and arts. She is currently a consultant for the UN agency IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) in the communication division.
3 Comments on this post.
  • Jacqueline Taylor-Chase
    26 February 2016 at 5:45 pm
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    Interesting…

  • Roger Hawcroft
    Roger Hawcroft
    3 March 2016 at 4:19 pm
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    This is just one of many sad tales of courage standing against ignorance and persecution. Joan Baez’s rendition of the ballad of Sacco & Vinzetti is a soulfully, beautiful & rivetting one. Even if you don’t know the story, the power and mood of Baez’s performance make the lyric accessible and incredibly moving. For me, someone who grew with Joan Baez, it remains an outstanding example, not only of her vocal beauty but also of her life-long dedication to drawing attention to transgressions of human rights and promoting a more just and equitable society. She is one of the great artists of our time. I would encourage anyone who doesn’t know her work to take the time to seek it out. However, don’t judge on a single song or period for, as do all good artists, her work changes with the years – from traditional folk, to protest, to autobiographical humour, to love and pain and to philosophical reflection. If you are fortunate enough to meet her in person, now that she is getting on in years and has the winds of the old days blowing through her hair, perhaps you could just acknowledge a wonderful person and artist with a non- intrusive but caring and respectful, “hello,in there, hello”.

    • Francesca Aloisio
      Francesca Aloisio
      4 March 2016 at 8:11 am
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      Thank you Roger for the inspiring words. I agree that the artist is very special and her work deserves to be recognized. Her voice is one of those which have always been raised to fight injustices, beside being a beautiful voice. Thanks again for the nice comment.

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