Banks of Marble

Gazette, Vol. 1, No. 1, issued by Folkways Records in 1958, was one of the first Pete Seeger LPs I owned—maybe the very first. I don’t know why or how I chose it, butSeeger Gazette I listened to it over and over, and learned most of the songs by heart. Not all of them were masterpieces, by any means—like Broadside magazine, which Pete co-founded a few years later, Gazette was meant to encourage people to write songs about what was happening in the world around them. It was apparently intended as the first issue of a sort of musical newsletter in which Pete would present current topical songs on a regular basis, though it was several years before he released Gazette, Vol. 2, and there was no third volume — by the early 1960s Broadside had picked up the baton and young singers were recording their own songs.

There were some forgettable songs on Gazette—I’m guessing no one on the planet can sing “The TVA Song” or “The Demi Song,” or “Teachers Blues,” or “The Ballad of Sherman Wu” —but also some that every folksinger with left-wing inclinations learned and a lot of us still remember.

First National Bank“Banks of Marble” was one of those, written in 1948 by Les Rice, an apple grower in Newburgh, New York, and introduced by Pete at a hootenanny within the next year or so. To give an idea of how young I was when I learned this, I pictured the “banks” as banks of a river or canal — which makes no sense at all, but I still have that picture in my mind, of sloping marble banks with water running between them.

The song is a more didactic “This Land Is Your Land,” and I haven’t heard anyone sing it since I was a kid, but when you picture the young Communists gathered around the fountain in Washington Square Park circa 1958, singing songs of the working class struggle, this is what they were singing — and now that “socialism” seems to be an acceptable term in American politics, maybe we’ll be getting some new songs like this.