Twenty-five years ago today an oil tanker ran aground in the Prince William Sound, spilling a half-million or more gallons of oil into the sea. At the time it was the greatest natural disaster our nation had caused for itself (passed in 2010 by the Deepwater Horizon disaster). The shockingly slow industry response became a (forgive the term) watershed moment, galvanizing not only environmental/conservation movements but also the courage of class action suits against corporations.
Legal battles over the Exxon Valdez spill are still ongoing today. A 2008 documentary, Black Wave: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez, explores the environmental and human costs of the disaster. You can watch the film here online, but you will probably have a hard time getting to the end without a broken heart.
“The Oil Song” by Steven Forbert
This morning we read about the anniversary in our Sunday paper about the herring, the whales and the otters on the anniversary, but the article mentioned nothing of the people who lived in Cordova, Alaska.
Here’s a peculiar record we’ve always loved, surely an example of something that is rare but not valuable, at least in the money sense — it’s a test pressing of songs by Pop Wagner, the Twin Cities’ awesome-est cowboy fiddler. He wrote the song “Good Friday” after performing in Cordova, Alaska just before the disaster. Dakota Dave Hull explains it in the notes to the album he and Pop made together (Airship) here:
He stayed with friends who were getting ready for the herring run which was on its way north. Their plan was to harvest herring roe for the lucrative market in Japan where it is used for “happy food” or, as we westerners would say, hors d’oeuvres. On Good Friday, Pop deplaned in Juneau where he saw the headlines and the photo of the Exxon Valdez run aground on Bligh Reef. He wrote this song a few weeks later.
Pop’s song was one of the only we’ve ever heard that acknowledged the enormous human cost of the disaster (not to dismiss the suffering of the sea creatures we more often see in oily images). If you’re able to make it through the wrenching documentary about Cordova, you’ll understand our surprise and sadness on this anniversary.
“Good Friday” by Pop Wagner
We offered this record to Pop Wagner last time he was here in the shop, and he demurred with characteristic modesty. We’re not sure this six-track 12″ was ever made into an official release (we’ve never found one). He recorded “Good Friday” with Dakota Dave Hull, and some of the other songs at other times.
It seems like this is a really good time to point out that if you’d like to see Pop Wagner perform, he’s part of the awesome celebration of Pete Seeger’s 95th birthday organized by Larry Long, who brought a flyer into the shop this week. It’s at the Fitzgerald Theater on May 3rd (it’s on their calendar here).
Maybe it’s also something to consider next time you start your car, or next time you buy some plastic bullshit at Target just to replace something fixable that you didn’t need in the first place. And maybe this is too much for a blog about records, too preachy. It’s not like we’ve got a choice about where we have to go with those cars — We’ll go where the work is. We’re all stuck in an oil/plastic nightmare but at the very least we’re in better shape than the people who depended on the Prince William Sound were on this day twenty-five years ago.