Obsolete Technology Will Demand a Reckoning: The Ghost of John Henry

Our new album, The Ghost of John Henry, is available today. The folk tale about a railroad worker who raced a steam drill has stuck with me since I was a little kid, and so in a lot of ways it feels like I’ve been leading up to this record my whole life. That makes the response we’ve received to it so far — the wonderful reviews, pre-orders, internet radio play — tremendously moving. Thank you to Kurt and Jody for not turning around and running the other way when a crazy man (me) asked them to be in a band so we could make a concept record about a 150-year-old legend.

Why John Henry? This is from the album’s liner notes, and about as good an explanation as I know how to give:

After the Civil War, railroads spread out across the country, built on the backs of immigrants, convicts, and men who left their lives and loves to lay track beyond the horizon. But to the rich men who controlled the rails, their eyes fixed only on balance sheets, these workers were cogs in a machine – easily discarded, easily replaced. Into this world walked John Henry, said to be the strongest man to ever swing a hammer or drive a spike.

On his heels came steam. New steam drills appeared with the inevitability of tomorrow, intended to conquer mountains and make men obsolete. Faced with the loss of his livelihood, John Henry challenged the machine to a race. The details are lost to history, but what remains is the legend of a man who fought a machine and won, though the effort cost him his life. His stand was noble, proud, and futile. As technology continues to press against what it means to be human, we persist in his struggle, and walk with his ghost.

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