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John Westmoreland News

T-Bone Slim podcast

T-Bone Slim ja hankkeemme tutkijoita Tervetuloa, tervemenoa-podcastissa

(In English below)

Siirtolaisuusinstituutti tuottaa Tervetuloa, tervemenoa -nimistä podcastia, joka “kertoo Suomeen tulleiden ja Suomesta lähteneiden kiehtovia tarinoita ja selittää ilmiöt niiden takana”. Podcastin uusin jakso käsittelee T-Bone Slimiä, hänen aikansa poliittista ja historiallista kontekstia sekä IWW (International Workers of the World) -musiikkia ja runoja. Jaksossa esiintyvät hankkeemme tutkijat Saku Pinta ja Saijaleena Rantanen sekä taiteilija-tutkija John Westmoreland.

Vaikka jakso käsitteleekin aihetta myös laajemmassa historiallisessa kontekstissa ja peilailee aihetta myös nykypäivän aktivismiin, summaa tämä jakso hyvin ja selkeästi sitä kaikkea mitä olemme tässä Koneen säätiön rahoittamassa ‘T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America’ -hankkeessa tutkineet. Samalla tulee esille, kuinka tärkeää laajempikin historiallisen ajanjakson ja aikaisemman tutkimuksen hahmottaminen on niin T-Bone Slimiä kuin nykypäivänkin aktivismin ilmiöitä tutkittaessa. Vaikka olemme varmasti hieman puolueellisia, suosittelemme lämpimästi kuuntelemaan! Podcastin lopussa summataan hyvin sitä, miksi T-Bone Slimin ja hänenkaltaisten historialliseen marginaaliin jääneiden yksittäisten ihmisten tutkiminen on merkityksellistä.

Kuuntele podcast alla olevasta soittimesta tai erillisestä linkistä täältä (avautuu uuteen välilehteen). Tervetuloa, tervemenoa -podcast löytyy myös useimmista ilmaisista podcast-sovelluksista sekä Spotifysta.

***In English***

T-Bone Slim and Our Researchers in  Tervetuloa, tervemenoa podcast

The Migration Institute of Finland produces a podcast called Tervetuloa, tervemenoa [Welcome, Farewell], which “tells the fascinating stories of those who have come to and left Finland and explains the phenomena behind them”. The latest episode of the podcast looks at T-Bone Slim, the political and historical context of his time, and IWW (International Workers of the World) music and poetry. The episode features our project researchers Saku Pinta and Saijaleena Rantanen and artist-researcher John Westmoreland.

Although the episode also deals with the topic in a broader historical context and mirrors the topic in contemporary activism, it sums up well and clearly everything we have been researching in this Kone Foundation funded project ‘T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America’. At the same time, it shows how important it is to have a broader historical perspective and an outline of previous research when studying both T-Bone Slim and contemporary activist phenomena. While we are certainly a little biased, we highly recommend a listen! The end of the podcast sums up well why it is relevant to study T-Bone Slim and individuals like him who have been historically marginalized.

Listen to the podcast from the player above or from a separate link here (opens in a new tab). The Tervetuloa, tervemenoa podcast is also available on most free podcast apps and Spotify. The podcast is mainly in Finnish.

T-Bone Slim’s Forgotten Finnish-Language Writings in the IWW Press

Author: Saku Pinta

T-Bone Slim’s Forgotten Finnish-Language Writings in the IWW Press

Many new discoveries have been uncovered as the T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America research project has progressed over the last ten months. These discoveries have helped to shed considerable light not only on Slim’s life but also on his relationship to the Finnish-language and to Finnish immigrant communities in North America.

Last month, for instance, project research assistant Lotta Leiwo announced the discovery of a Finnish-language text written by Slim in 1903, using the pseudonym Mathew Houghton, during his time as a participant in the Finnish immigrant temperance movement.

This discovery shows that Slim had a much higher level of Finnish-language fluency than previously assumed. Until very recently, Fred Thompson – formerly the editor of the Industrial Worker newspaper as well as an instructor and director of the Work People’s College, among his many other roles in the IWW – had been the main source of information on the topic of T-Bone Slim’s ability to communicate in the Finnish-language.

T-Bone Slim’s Finnish Writing: The Evidence

This comes from one little snippet from an interview conducted by Franklin Rosemont with Thompson – who personally knew Slim – which appeared in the introduction to Rosemont’s edited volume Juice is Stranger than Friction: Selected Writings of T-Bone Slim. In the interview, Thompson says “I doubt whether T-Bone was familiar enough in Finnish to be funny…though he could speak it.” As a non-Finnish speaker, Thompson could only modestly doubt, rather than completely rule out, Slim’s ability to communicate effectively enough in Finnish to be funny.

However, we now have compelling evidence that suggests that Slim wrote for the Finnish- language IWW press in the early 1920s. As many as three Finnish-language writings by T- Bone Slim have been uncovered, but there may be more. This blog post will focus on one of these texts – the earliest confirmed Finnish-language writing by T-Bone Slim, or at least the earliest one uncovered so far.

It is a short piece entitled “Joitakin Terveysopillisia Neuvoja” (Some Hygienics Advice) which appeared in the August 27, 1922 issue of the Duluth, Minnesota-based Finnish IWW newspaper Industrialisti.

The English-language translation is as follows:

Some Hygienics Advice
By T-Bone Slim

Exercise for fifteen minutes in the morning, and the same amount in the evening. Do it when the boss is watching.

Use as much oxygen as possible. Sit down and breathe deeply occasionally. Nobody will care about that – they will think you are sighing. [Note: in the original Slim says “happoa” or acid, instead of “happea” or oxygen. This may be a typo or it might be that Slim accidentally used the wrong Finnish word – albeit one that was similar to the intended word – which was then reproduced in the newspaper.]

Never unbutton after eating – buy looser fitting clothes. Sleep sixteen hours a day in an airy room.

Don’t try to lift too much. There are over 6,000,000 unemployed, who are very willing to “give a hand” and also – you can tear something.

Don’t eat hastily (A horse is given an hour and fifteen minutes to eat).

Don’t go to work early. “Organization in everything.” Your employer might soon say that you are showing too much affection for the workplace – which is “theirs.”

Read I.W.W. literature, in order to be able to say something.

T-Bone Slim’s Finnish Writing: Some Conclusions

How do we know that this is a text originally written in Finnish?

Again, no English-language version of this short piece has been found (although there is one text with similarities, which will be discussed below). Also, unlike most of the Finnish-language translations of Slim’s writings that appeared in Industrialisti in the 1920s, of which there are several examples, this one did not include the short introduction from the translator. These short intros by a translator would became standard feature, apologetically noting that much of Slim’s wordplay is nearly impossible to render into Finnish from English, and has thus been lost in translation. Finally, the possible accidental use of the word “happoa” instead of “happea” as well as the use of a fairly well-known, old Finnish idiom in quotation marks also suggest that this was originally written in Finnish. The idiom in question is “Järjestelmällisyyttä kaikessa”, translated above as “Organization in everything,” which could also be rendered in English as “systemitization in everything” or “be methodical in everything”.

Those familiar with T-Bone Slim’s writings will notice similarities between “Some Hygienics Advice” and “Recipes for Health,” published about a year later in 1923 in the pamphlet Starving Amidst Too Much. Aside from being similarly structured as a series of eight, short pieces of advice for workers, these two pieces also discuss things like the importance of an airy room for sleeping as well as cautioning against being in a rush.

While Slim’s hygienics advice may have served as a kind of template or first draft of his “Recipes for Health,” there is a notable difference. “Some Hygienics Advice” uses humour and hyperbole to emphasize the fact that workers and bosses have different interests. The main lesson is that workers should not eagerly participate in their own exploitation. Rather, slowing down at work can, for example, serve to reclaim some dignity (even a horse is given more time to eat than a worker) or convince the boss to hire more people and thereby reduce unemployment (working faster, or working overtime, as the old union saying goes, is scabbing on the unemployed). “Recipes for Health”, by contrast, uses a much more serious and forthright tone throughout.

There is much more work to be done around Slim’s Finnish-language writings and the many questions that they raise. But one thing is certain: the satisfaction of uncovering these lost writings by T-Bone Slim is only matched by the satisfaction of making them available to a wider readership. We very much look forward to finding and sharing the next discovery.


T-Bone Slim Database – First Steps

Author: Lotta Leiwo

T-Bone Slim Database – First Steps

A lot has been going on in the past few months and our project has already done a lot this year. To celebrate the international foundation day last week, we wrote a summary of this year’s achievements so far on social media (read on Facebook or view on Twitter). Our blog has become a place where we share what we’ve been up to lately – sometimes even in almost real time. Our thoughts shared here are incomplete and unfinished as the aim is to share our project and process as we go. Our more evolved thoughts will be published in research articles later.

One of our main goals in this project is to create a T-Bone Slim database and staying true to our blog’s style, next I will give a short introduction to the T-Bone Slim database and how it is progressing at the moment. But first we need to explain why the database is needed.

The Challenge: Scattered Materials

Matti Valentinpoika Huhta wrote (or his texts were published) at least in ten publications, of which nine he wrote as T-Bone Slim. These nine are: Industrialisti, Industrial Pioneer, Industrial Solidarity, Industrial Worker, Little Red Song Book, One Big Union Monthly, Solidarity, Tie Vapauteen and Truth. The tenth publication that we have been able to find and verify, is Amerikan Sanomat that has been noted in this blog previously. In Amerikan Sanomat he wrote with a name Mathew Houghton, but he worked as the correspondent for “Tyyni” [Calm] Temperance society few years earlier by his own name. We haven’t yet been able to find his (possible) texts for “Tyyni” correspondence.

The challenge with finding the texts and information about T-Bone Slim is multifaceted. Because of the amount of publications he wrote for, the original materials are scattered around in several archives in North America and Finland. This is a common challenge with immigrant literature and publications and works as an example of another challenge embedded in these materials. It is sometimes hard to draw the line if they are Finnish or American or Canadian. Thus, immigrant, North American Finnish in other words, often fall in between “categories”.

Third challenge is his name. It was common for Finnish immigrants and their descendants change their name to fit in the North American society better. But in T-Bone Slim’s case we have more than one, two or three names. He used at least these names/ versions of his name:

  • Matti V. Huhta
  • Matti Leppihuhta
  • Mathias Valentinpoika Huhta
  • Matt Houghton
  • Mathew Houhghton
  • Matt Ahrlund (or Ahlund)
  • Joe Hilger (or Hilgor)
  • Valentin(e) Huhta
  • Matt Valentin(e)

This makes raking the numerous possible publications, often available only in physical or microfilm copy, slow. Which brings us back to the first challenge: the number of possible publications where his text might have been published.

Our researcher Marija Dalbello and her assistant Monica Genuardi prepared a census of IWW materials in the American and Canadian archives and libraries for the project. The result is 249 located IWW newspapers and other publications. Even though the language of the publications varies between 10 different languages (English=186, others=63), this gives us an impression of the viable publishing possibilities for an IWW writer writing in English and possibly in Finnish. Not to forget that many of T-Bone’s texts were translated in Finnish (mainly in Industrialisti) even though it is possible he wrote also in Finnish in IWW papers. This is a topic Saku Pinta is currently working on.

But this is not all the challenges we and all T-Bone Slim researchers face. There is also the contextual information and related research materials concerning T-Bone Slim and the historical time he lived in. For example the documents scattered in different archives about his death, newspaper articles about events regarding his family and information about his family history, to mention just a few.

To put it short: Finding T-Bone Slim’s texts and related sources is hard.

The Solution: T-Bone Slim Database

Recently, we have been collecting and combining our main research materials – T-Bone Slim’s texts – into one place to create a T-Bone Slim database from the archival materials and articles. This is one of the main goals in our project: To provide an open database for everyone to find information about T-Bone Slim and his texts to study them. We are currently researching and analyzing the texts to create this coherent corpus – The Database-to-be.

To give a tangible example what we are working on: We are currently creating an Excel document where we add all the texts (that we have found) with a date, publication, title and so on. After that, we categorize and add searchable tags to every individual published text based on topics central to our research but also to provide quantitative and qualitative data about the T-Bone Slim corpus we are creating. This means that after our work, we are able to tell how many of his texts were poems or songs or where he travelled (or said he travelled), what (own) illnesses he mentions and to who he refers to in his texts, to give just a few examples.

Currently, we are creating a small-scale crowdsourcing system among ourselves where the research assistant Lotta Leiwo manages the overall process, and our researchers contribute by analyzing the materials bit by bit based on tasks or “homework” they are given based on the phase of the process. First, we are experimenting this system by creating a manual or instructions for the topics and tags to be included in the database (the examples given above are almost certainly included). As we have approximately 1500 to 2000 texts to analyze, we need to be careful and consistent. The richness in this process is that we all come from different expertise, and some have studied these texts previously and others have more “fresher” eyes for the materials. Everyone’s contribution provides depth to the analyzing process. We feel very enthusiastic about this and even with all the challenges we feel that we are truly creating something important here.

In addition to collecting and analyzing the materials, there is also a lot of practical challenges to tackle such as where and how to maintain the materials so that it is easy to find for researchers but supported safely for years to come. A challenge all researchers and institutions pursuing towards open data need to consider: How open data actually can be and is maintained after our time? The work has just begun, but at the moment we are truly excited about this all and can’t wait to share more!


Creosote Boxcars

Author: John Westmoreland

Creosote Boxcars

Since December 2017, when I first discovered that T-Bone Slim is my great granduncle, I’ve endeavored to learn as much as possible about his life and work. In my experience perhaps the best resources to accomplish this are the columns he authored for IWW periodicals, as well as the existing handwritten manuscripts housed at the Newberry Library and in my family’s archive. However, since the topics of T-Bone Slim’s writings are focused on contemporary events and issues of his day, and because he writes in a rather surrealistic and free flowing manner, understanding and contextualizing his work is not always an easy task—there are many references which could slip past a researcher. I’ve found that one useful way to gain insight into what T-Bone Slim is expressing is to take note of particular words or phrases found in his writings and to use internet keyword searches to find other content containing the same references. This tactic helps to elucidate T-Bone Slim’s perspective and often provides fascinating parallels to issues of importance in our society today. This blog post will be an investigation into one such word—“creosote.”

In the Franklin Rosemont – T-Bone Slim Research Collection at the Newberry Library in Chicago, there is an undated handwritten manuscript which can also be viewed via their online archive of T-Bone Slim papers, approximately 1934–1942 (pages 79, and 81). True to T-Bone’s characteristic elusive style, it is really up to the reader to decide exactly how much one believes he is making definitive claims here, or if the message should be taken to some degree in a tongue in cheek manner.

“Drouth seems to smell heavily of carbon monoxide, medicated gasoline, pickled railroads, perfumed-boxcars (hydro-chloric-creosote), treated-water and liquid chlorine. (Isn’t there a way to make them “let up” before they destroy the world and themselves with it?)—

In language fluent raw and terse
I’ll say the world is getting worse”

Image of a manuscript, text written with pencil. Text quoted in full on the blog text
T-Bone Slim writings, approximately 1934–42,Box: 1, Folder: 1-2. The Newberry Library – Modern Manuscripts, page 79/168.
Creosote in the 21st century

In an article from the Gothamist—a New York City online news, arts and entertainment outlet—published August 10th, 2011 residents of Queens, New York express concern over a nauseating smell emanating from the railroad tracks in Middle Village. According to one resident, “The odor is so bad it can choke a horse… You smell it for a while and you start to get woozy.”

T-Bone Slim in his manuscript describes a dark and “ill smelling fluid… which exudes fumes for six months, possibly years without recharging”. He states that this substance was used to line the interiors of boxcars, and that for the hobos traveling and sleeping in such cars, it amounted to a “death penalty” or at the very least an “accelerated dispatch to a haven of rest”.

“Death penalty seems rather a heavy punishment to lay on a man for sleeping in a box car. Such is the punishment however, the end slightly deferred. Here it might be argued the punishment is not a death penalty in so far as it lops off only the closing years of the slumberers life and might be classed as accelerated dispatch to a haven of rest. Be that as it may, here is how it is accomplished:

The cars are doped with an ill smelling fluid; with but few exceptions. We won’t go into the nature of the stuff, sufficient to say it makes the homeless one ill. We won’t go into the motives, which are many and all pointing in one direction; sufficient to say the evidence is in those cars, a dark shade, stain, which exudes fumes for six months, possibly years without recharging. Freight moved in those cars becomes as contaminated and the noble businessman and householder hasten to make their wills—noble martyrs to the cause of brainlessness!”

Image of a manuscript, text written with pencil. Two thirds of the text is quoted on the blog text.
T-Bone Slim writings, approximately 1934–42,Box: 1, Folder: 1-2. The Newberry Library – Modern Manuscripts, page 81/168.

What to do with “pickled” railroad ties?

Over the past couple decades aging creosote treated railroad ties have at times been burned in large scale incinerators and biomass energy plants in the United States to create electricity. Through this process railroad companies are able to grind down and dispose of tons of hazardous old ties which would otherwise have to be stored in industrial waste sites. This solution, however, elicits concern among some residents and environmental groups in the areas surrounding the energy plants which burn these creosote “pickled” railroad ties. For instance Flagpole, a local magazine in Athens GA published an online article from January 27th, 2020 featuring a video of members of the Madison Clean Power Coalition holding a protest against the burning of creosote treated railroad ties by the Colbert, GA Biomass Energy Plant over concerns that the smoke produced is toxic and poisoning the air.

Whatever one makes of the controversies related to creosote and its continued usage, it is certainly fascinating to see how issues which concerned T-Bone Slim 80 to 100 years ago are often still quite relevant and topical in our society today…

John Westmoreland

Juuret Suomessa

Kirjoittaja: John Westmoreland

Juuret Suomessa – Kuinka löysin kadonneen kappaleen sukuhistoriaani

(Tämä teksti on käännös aiemmin julkaistusta englanninkielisestä tekstistä.)

Iso-iso-isovanhempani Matti ja Brita Johanna Huhta lähtivät Kälviältä Suomesta vuonna 1879 etsimään uutta elämää Yhdysvalloista. He asettuivat asumaan Ashtabulaan, Ohioon Erie-järven rannalle. Uudessa kotimaassaan he kasvattivat viisilapsisen perheen, johon kuuluivat vanhin poika Matti V. Huhta (T-Bone Slim) ja nuorin tytär Sofie Huhta, isomummoni. T-Bone, Sofie tai kukaan muukaan Huhdan lapsista ei koskaan astunut jalallaan esivanhempiensa kotimaahan, Suomeen.

Itse asiassa vaikuttaa siltä, ettei yksikään Huhdan myöhemmistä sukupolvista päässyt Suomeen ennen kesää 2018, jolloin minulla oli tilaisuus tehdä ensimmäinen vierailuni “vanhaan maahan”. Tuo matka toteutui varsin mielenkiintoisella tavalla. Tuohon aikaan työskentelin ensimmäisen albumini, Cast Fire, julkaisun parissa lähettämällä sähköposteja, soittamalla puheluita ja yleisesti ottaen edistämällä levyn myyntiä. Samoihin aikoihin yritin kaivaa esiin mahdollisimman paljon tietoa hiljattain uudelleen löytämästäni amerikansuomalaisesta sukulaisestani, kulkuri-lauluntekijästä, runoilijasta ja IWW-kolumnistista, joka tunnetaan nimellä T-Bone Slim. Toisinaan tuntui siltä, että laiminlöin velvollisuuteni albumiprojektissa ja sen sijaan käytin suurimman osan energiastani seuratakseni hajanaisia johtolankoja, jotka auttoivat hahmottamaan isoisosetäni elämää. Näin tekemällä toivoin, että saisin koottua kokonaisemman kuvan ja ymmärryksen siitä, kuka hän oli ja mistä hän oli kotoisin, ja siten kunnioittaisin hänen unohdettua perintöään ja kaivaisin esiin kadonneen kappaleen omasta sukuhistoriastani.

Black and white photo of an elderly lady in dark dress standing on grass by trees
T-Bone Slimin äiti Brita Johanna Huhta. Kuva: Westmorelandien perhearkisto.
Sepia coloured old photo, portrait of two men. One man is sitting and another is standing. Curtain mural background
T-Bone Slimin isä (istumassa). Toisen miehen henkilöllisyys ei ole tiedossa. Kuva: Westmorelandien perhearkisto.

Eräänä päivänä kirjoittaessani sähköposteja ja yrittäessäni varata keikkoja Cast Fire-levyn julkaisun tueksi, päähäni pälkähti hieman outo ajatus. Entäpä jos ottaisin yhteyttä suomalaisen musiikkiskenen ihmisiin ja kysyisin, olisiko minun mahdollista esittää omaa musiikkiani ja uusia tulkintoja T-Bone Slimin kappaleista Suomessa? Se tuntui kaukaa haetulta, mutta samaan aikaan tunsin, että T-Bone Slimin henki oli tuohon aikaan jollakin mystisellä ja synkronistisella tavalla heräämässä eloon – aistin ilmassa jotain lupaavaa… Näin ollen toimin heränneen mielijohteen mukaan ja internetin kautta löysin suomalaisten keikkavälittäjien nimiä ja yhteystietoja. Kirjoitin muutamia sähköpostiviestejä, joissa kerroin keikkavälittäjille, kuka olen, kuka T-Bone Slim oli ja kysyin, haluaisivatko he varata minulle kesäkiertueen Suomeen. Pian näiden viestien lähettämisen jälkeen aloin kuitenkin epäillä pikkuruisen sähköpostikampanjani järkevyyttä. Pohdin, vaikutanko etuoikeutetulta amerikkalaiselta, joka odottaa ovien avautuvan Suomessa vain siksi, että hänen isoäitinsä isoveli oli suomalaista syntyperää oleva ikoninen kulkuri. Niinpä menin sinä iltana nukkumaan tuntien itseni hieman hölmöksi, koska olin varma, että sähköpostini jäisivät huomiotta. Mutta suureksi yllätyksekseni, kun tarkistin sähköpostilaatikkoni seuraavana aamuna, siellä olikin vastaus helsinkiläiseltä keikkavälittäjältä, joka kertoi, että projektini kuulosti erittäin mielenkiintoiselta ja että hän auttaisi mielellään! Samalla hän mainitsi, että Ville Juhani Sutinen oli hiljattain julkaissut T-Bone Slimistä kirjan ja että tunnettu suomalainen Hip-Hop artisti Paleface oli juuri muodostanut Laulava Unioni-yhtyeen, joka esittää suomalaisia IWW-lauluja, mukaan lukien iso-isosetäni tekstejä. Keikkavälittäjä yhdisti minut sekä Villen että Palefacen kanssa ja auttoi minua saamaan keikkoja kesäksi.

Ensimmäinen esiintymiseni Suomessa oli Palefacen kanssa Porvoossa elokuun lopulla 2018. Jossain vaiheessa keikkaa Karri kertoi yleisölle, että “Meillä on täällä T-Bone Slimin lihaa ja verta!”. Ja sai yleisön huutamaan “Tervetuloa kotiin John!”. Se oli minulle todella sydäntä lämmittävä ja merkityksellinen kokemus; tulla täysin uuteen maahan ja kulttuuriin ja kokea näin avosydäminen vastaanotto. Jatkoin keikkailua eri kaupungeissa ympäri Suomen, ja matkan päätteeksi kuvasin musiikkivideon yhdelle omalle kappaleelleni nimeltään The Sparrow suomalaisen ohjaajan ja kuvaajan Cristal Alakosken kanssa. Palasin syksyllä Yhdysvaltoihin innostuneena ja aloin suunnitella uutta levytysprojektia, kokoelmaa T-Bone Slimin kirjoittamista kappaleista.

Selfie of two men in a garage. Both men have beard, the other is bald, other has long hair. Graffiti of old Frankenstein looking man in the background
Paleface ja John Tampereella vuonna 2022. Kuva: Karri Miettinen 2022.
Graffiti mural on the end of a house. Text “T-Bone Slim Tear Gas” and image of a tear gas bottle with a text: “The most effective agent used by employers to persuade their employees that the interests of capital and labor are identical.” Man playing guitar in front of the graffiti mural.
John soittamassa kitaraa Antti Männynvälin tekemän T-Bone Slim/ Tear Gas-seinämaalayksen edessä. Kuva: Antti Männynväli 2021.
Graffiti “T-Bone Slim”. Two men: one standing, doing graffiti and other sitting and playing guitar. Water in front, road railing in the back. Text in the bottom: "Worries make the child sing."
Antti Männynväli tekemässä T-Bone Slim graffitia Johnin soittaessa Weary Years-kappaletta. Kuva: Tommi Virtanen 2021.

Tämän jälkeen olen palannut Suomeen joka kesä lukuun ottamatta vuotta 2020. Näiden matkojen aikana minulla on ollut hieno mahdollisuus esittää omia tulkintojani T-Bone Slimin kappaleista erilaisissa tapahtumissa, festivaaleilla ja jopa Helsingin kaduilla. Olen myös tavannut monia upeita muusikoita, taiteilijoita ja tutkijoita, joista on tullut ystäviä ja yhteistyökumppaneita. Lisäksi olen oppinut suomalaisten esivanhempieni kulttuurista ja elämän olosuhteista enemmän kuin koskaan toivoinkaan.

Man performing on a stage with a guitar. Plants and flowers, three persons playing and singing in the background.]
John esiintymässä Valkeakosken Työväenmusiikkitapahtumassa 2022. Kuva: Esa Kuloniemi 2022.

Yksi Suomenmatkojeni tähänastisista kohokohdista on ollut mahdollisuus vierailla Kälviällä torppapaikoilla, joissa Huhdan iso-iso-isovanhempani asuivat ennen kuin he muuttivat Yhdysvaltoihin. Kälviän paikallishistorian tuntija Jukka Hilli opasti minut ja muut T-Bone Slim -tutkijatoverini Kirsti Salmi-Niklanderin ja Lotta Leiwon näille paikoille (blogitekstit kevään 2022 kenttätyömatkasta luettavissa englanniksi täällä ja suomeksi täällä). Yksi näistä torpista, Hietakangas, jossa T-Bonen äiti Brita Johanna asui lapsena, oli erityisen mieleenpainuva. Siellä kasvaa aivan kellarin jäänteiden edessä jättiläiskuusi. Puu on epäilemättä niin vanha, että sen on täytynyt olla siellä jo 1860-luvulla, kun T-Bone Slimin äiti oli kasvuiässä.

Man standing before a giant spruce in a forest.
John Hietakankaan kuusen luona. Kuva: Lotta Leiwo 2022.
Selfie of two men standing outside. The other has beard and long hair and other wears a cap.
John (vas.) ja Jukka Hilli. Kuva: John Westmoreland 2022.

Elokuussa 2021, Koneen Säätiön Lauttasaaren kartanossa vietetyn neljän kuukauden taiteilijaresidenssijakson huipentumana, yliopistonlehtori ja dosentti Kirsti Salmi-Niklander ja minä järjestimme maailman ensimmäien T-Bone Slim -seminaarin, joka pidettiin Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran tiloissa. Seminaari kokosi yhteen tutkijoita, muusikoita, taiteilijoita ja kirjailijoita esittelemään ensimmäistä kertaa Matti V. Huhdan elämää ja kirjoituksia kansainväliselle yleisölle. Lisäksi seminaari loi pohjaa tälle Koneen säätiön rahoittamalle “T-Bone Slim and the Transnational Poetics of the Migrant Left in North America”-hankkeelle. Ryhmämme on tuottanut runsaasti uutta tietoa T-Bone Slimistä. Olen innoissani yhteistyön jatkamisesta ja odotan innolla, että voimme jakaa ponnistelujemme tuloksia, uutta tutkimusta, musiikkia ja taidetta, laajemmalle yleisölle.

John Westmoreland esiintyi Taitedein yönä 18.8.2022 Helsingin yliopiston Topelian sisäpihalla yhdessä Luode-yhtyeen ja kansanmuusikko Emmi Kuittisen kanssa. Lue lisää esiintymisestä blogistamme täältä.

Ashtabula materials Events News

Newspaper Symposium 2022

Author: Lotta Leiwo

Newspaper Symposium 2022: New Exciting Finds from the Archive

Our PI Kirsti Salmi-Niklander and I, research assistant Lotta Leiwo attended the Newspaper Symposium organized by National Library of Finland on 30 August 2022. The day was full of interesting presentations by researchers from various fields from history, literature, ethnology to folklore studies.

In our presentation ‘Finnish American newspapers – benefits and challenges of digital and physical materials’ we discussed about Finnish American publishing, it’s relations to our project and presented our T-Bone Slim project to the audience both on site and online. As we have already discussed on our blog, American Finnish publishing in Ashtabula was lively already from 1880’s.

Our presentation in Newspaper Symposium was based on the corpus of material from the research project which focuses on the Finnish immigrant community and includes the Finnish-language newspapers Pohjantähti (1886-1887) and Amerikan Sanomat (1897-1913) published in Ashtabula, Ohio. The early newspaper publications provide opportunities to examine the daily lives, communities, and networks of Finnish immigrants at the turn of the century. In our presentation, we discussed our methodology with the newspaper material and the solutions we have adopted. Some Finnish American newspaper materials are available digitized in the Chronicling America database of the Library of Congress (LOC), but the newspapers in our corpus are only available as microfilm copies or as physical copies in the National Library of Finland. This means that the material has to be studied using more “traditional” methods, and that, for example, quick word searches are not possible as is on digitized materials. At the same time, the existing digital Finnish newspaper database provides valuable reference material, allowing us to examine, for example, the folklore texts in our materials and the networks of texts published in several journals.

Newspaper article in Finnish
Mathew Houghton’s text in Amerikan Sanomat 1.1.1903 (National Library of Finland).

The hybrid nature of our data corpus and the manual nature of our work offer both benefits and challenges for research. Going through the material manually is a prerequisite for conducting qualitative analysis – at the same time, the time spent collecting, processing and transcribing the non-digital materials takes time away from other research work. However, browsing physical copies of newspapers gives tangible understanding compared to the more distant digital material. Physical copies of magazines also provide an opportunity to get a feel for the reader’s experience. In our case we were able to find a gem: possibly one of the texts T-Bone Slim might have published in Finnish. Previously there has not been record of T-Bone Slim writing in Finnish or knowledge whether he could write in Finnish at all. This text was written by another pseudonym we knew he used later: “Mathew Houghton” in Amerikan Sanomat 1.1.1903.

Mathew Houghton’s text is correcting a previous correspondence letter from Erie, Pennsylvania published in Amerikan Sanomat. Mathew Houghtons letter was sent to the editorial staff of Amerikan Sanomat, and printed in the last page of the paper where they had a column for “local news”. Additionally, the text is describing a Christmas party of the temperance society “Tyyni”. We were restrainedly enthusiastic with the find but were not 100 % certain this was “our T-Bone”. Literally, as I was finalizing this text yesterday, I ended up turning few more stones to find out more about Tyyni Temperance Society. We have just found out that some of the American Finnish periodicals are actually digitized on National Library of Finland’s database, so I did some searches with different search terms. After a while I was able to find a true gem from Raittiuslehti : Raittiuden Ystäväin Äänenkannattaja [Temperance Paper: Organ of the Friends of Temperance], 25.5.1899:

Periodical article translated. Full text translated below in the blog text.
Raittiuslehti : Raittiuden Ystäväin Äänenkannattaja, 25.5.1899 (National Library of Finland’s digital collections).

Translated text:

“Tyyni Temperance Society’s officers are as follows; agent* Matti W. Huhta, chairperson Petti Lakari, keeper of the minutes Otto Ranta, treasurer J. Erkkilä, servant mrs Hietikko, [hall] caretaker E. Suutala, aid for keeper of the minutes miss Ida Huhta, servants aid miss Katri Lakari. W. Erie”

*Agent probably means a correspondence officer for the publication Raittiuslehti : Raittiuden Ystäväin Äänenkannattaja as the address of “Math. W. Huhta” is available on another page of the publication where all the local correspondents of Suomalainen kansallis-raittius-veljeysseura [Finnish National Temperance Fraternal Society] are listed. The address has a typo, but is the same where T-Bone’s parents Matti and Johanna Huhta had a boarding house at the time (mentioned also on another blog entry here). Apparently, also T-Bone’s sister Ida Huhta was an active member of the Tyyni Temperance Society.

In this case we can be quite certain that this person is “our T-Bone” and it confirms the text written by “Mathew Houghton” is his writing, too. Both texts give us important information of people he worked with and the networks he had. This is truly a significant find as we now have evidence of T-Bone Slim also writing in Finnish. Tyyni Temperance Society is known publishing a monthly hand-written newspaper (see ‘Overview of the Activities of the Tyyni Temperance Society’ in Valoa : amerikan suomalaisen raittiuskansan kesäjulkaisu [Light: American Finnish Temperance Folk’s Summer Issue], 01.01.1938, p. 20, text is in Finnish), could T-Bone have written in that paper? Hopefully we are able to find Tyyni’s “Nyrkkilehti” [Fist Press], as the hand-written newspapers were often called, somewhere to study this topic further!

This topical find is even better example of how we have conducted research on our different research materials, than we were able to provide on our presentation at Newspaper Symposium. This also gives an example how our work is in a really interesting phase right now. We find something exciting almost every day and have several leads from physical, actual newspapers, periodicals and journals that are kept in several archives. With these leads we can do comparative research on digitized materials. Currently, we are working on with several interesting leads and topics concerning T-Bone Slim’s text’s, intertextuality, and his networks.

It seems that the Newspaper Symposium keeps on giving. Besides networking with other researchers and discussing future research prospects, we were able to find new materials that illuminate early years of T-Bone Slim with the inspiration we got from others!


Events John Westmoreland News

Uusia tulkintoja: Taiteiden yö 2022

KIRJOITTAJA: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander & LOTTA LEIWO

Uusia tulkintoja – Taiteiden yö 2022

(English version available here.)

Kuumana kesäiltana 18. elokuuta hankkeemme järjesti tapahtuman, joka oli osa Helsingin Taiteiden yö -konseptia. Taiteiden yö, jolloin kuka tahansa voi järjestää kaupungissa taidetapahtuman, on osa kolmiviikkoisia Helsingin juhlaviikkoja. Tapahtumamme teemana oli “Uusia tulkintoja”.

Hankkeemme taiteilija John Westmoreland ja hänen “löydetyt ystävänsä”; Luode-yhtye sekä kansanmuusikko Emmi Kuittinen esiintyivät noin 100 hengen yleisölle Topelian sisäpihalla, kauniissa puutarhassa Helsingin yliopiston keskustakampuksella. Suurin osa yleisöstä seurasi esitystä Thirsty Scholarin terassilta. Ennen esitystä hankkeen johtaja Kirsti Salmi-Niklander esitteli T-Bone Slim -projektia yleisölle. Voit katsoa esityksen Unitubesta tai lukea transkriptin alta. Esittelyn jälkeen löydät kaksi videota musiikkiesityksestä.

People sitting on ground, band playing: keyboardist and guitarist.
Yleisö kuuntelemassa John Westmorelandin esiintymistä Topelian nurmikolla. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.
Female speaking to a microphone. Band set: keyboards, drum set. A van and Topelia building in the background.
Kirsti Salmi-Niklander esittelee hanketta. Kuvaa klikkaamalla voit katsoa esittelyn (englanniksi). © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

“Tervetuloa Taiteiden yön musiikkitapahtumaan, jonka tarjoaa Koneen Säätiön rahoittama tutkimus- ja taideprojekti ’T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America’. Hanke tutkii siirtolaisvasemmiston ylirajaista poetiikkaa ja verkostoja Pohjois-Amerikassa T-Bone Slimin ainutlaatuisen hahmon kautta. T-Bone Slim oli Matti Valentininpoika Huhdan (1882–1942) salanimi, ja hän oli yksi Yhdysvaltain työväenliikkeen merkkihenkilöistä. Hän syntyi Ashtabulassa Ohiossa vuonna 1882. Hänen vanhempansa ja heidän useimmat sisaruksensa olivat muuttaneet Keski-Pohjanmaan Kälviältä muutamaa vuotta aiemmin. Matti Huhta kuoli vuonna 1942 New Yorkissa hukkumalla East Riveriin. T-Bone Slim oli legendaarinen kulkuri, lauluntekijä, runoilija ja IWW-liikkeen (Industrial Workers of the World) lehtien kolumnisti. Hän kirjoitti tekstejään englanniksi, tosin olemme onnistuneet löytämään ainakin yhden tekstin, jonka hän on saattanut kirjoittaa suomeksi Ashtabulan paikallislehteen noin 20-vuotiaana.

T-Bone Slimin kirjoitukset jäivät pitkään unohduksiin. Niitä julkaistiin alun perin IWW-liikkeen sanoma- ja aikakauslehdissä. 1960-luvulla T-Bone Slimin kirjoitukset innoittivat Chicagon surrealistista liikettä ja kansalaisoikeusliikettä. Hän pysytteli kuitenkin poissa parrasvaloista, ja hänen henkilöllisyytensä pysyi mysteerinä useimmille lukijoille. Muutama vuosi sitten John Westmoreland, hankkeemme muusikko ja taiteilija, sai selville, että T-Bone Slim oli itse asiassa hänen isoisosetänsä Matt, joka oli eräänlainen suvun musta lammas. Hankkeemme sai alkunsa Johnin viime vuonna Koneen Säätiön rahoittamasta residenssijaksosta.

Taiteellisessa ja tutkimuksellisessa hankkeessamme jäljitämme T-Bone Slimin elämää ja verkostoja sekä sosiaalisia, kulttuurisia ja poliittisia liikkeitä, joissa hän toimi. Projektiryhmämme on hyvin kansainvälinen: Minä ja tutkimusassistenttimme Lotta Leiwo työskentelemme täällä Topeliassa, ja olemme keskittyneet T-Bone Slimin sukuhistoriaan ja varhaisvuosiin Kansalliskirjaston ja Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran aineistojen pohjalta. Teimme myös jännittävän kenttämatkan Kälviälle toukokuussa. Saku Pinta on suomalais-kanadalainen tutkija, joka asuu Thunder Bayssä ja Winnipegissä. Marija Dalbello on kotoisin Kroatiasta, mutta toimii nykyään informaatiotutkimuksen professorina Rutgersin yliopistossa New Jerseyssä. Saijaleena Rantanen Taideyliopistosta, joka on työskennellyt IWW-laulujen parissa, ja Samira Saramo Siirtolaisuusinstituutista ovat myös mukana hankkeessa. Owen Clayton Lincolnin yliopistosta Iso-Britanniasta on kirjoittanut tähän mennessä ainoat akateemiset artikkelit T-Bone Slimin kirjallisista teoksista, ja teemme hänen kanssaan yhteistyötä hankkeessa. Hankkeemme toimii enimmäkseen virtuaalisesti, ja olemme tutkineet arkisto- ja kirjastoaineistoja sekä Yhdysvalloissa että Suomessa. Ensi vuonna tapaamme vihdoin kasvokkain Suomessa loppuseminaarissamme. Tilaisuuksia on luvassa sekä Helsingissä että Kokkolassa ja Kälviällä elokuun puolivälissä, joten pysykää kuulolla! Hankkeellamme on verkkosivut ja blogi, Facebook-sivu ja Twitter-tili, joilla julkaisemme tutkimustuloksia.

John Westmoreland on työstänyt uusia tulkintoja T-Bone Slimin kappaleista, ja hänen “Resurrection” -albuminsa on tulossa pian. Kaksi kappaletta on jo julkaistu YouTubessa: musiikkivideo “Harvest Land” ja “Weary Years“. John on myös tehnyt tutkimusta näiden kappaleiden taustoista. Hän esittelee laulujen tekstejä tarkemmin pian. Tänä iltana kuulemme siis joitakin näistä uusista tulkinnoista T-Bone Slimin kappaleista. Johnia säestävät “Luode”-yhtye, Antero Kulju ja Jussi Villgren sekä kansanmuusikko Emmi Kuittinen.”

Kirstin esityksen jälkeen John Westmoreland & co. esittivät uusia tulkintoja T-Bone Slimin teksteistä.

“Popular Wobbly”

Jos video ei näy, löydät sen YouTubesta täältä.

Kansanmuusikko Emmi Kuittinen esittää “Street Beggars” -kappaleessa T-Bone Slimin inspiroiman itkulaulun. Emmi esittelee itkulaulua näin:

“Seuraavassa kappaleessa on pieni itkuvirrenpätkä, joka on tehty karjalaista itkuvirsiperinnetyyliä noudattaen omalla kielelläni, suomeksi. T-Bone Slimin teksti “Street Beggars” inspiroi tähän itkuvirteen.”

Itkuvirren sanat:

“Kuunnelkaa kuinka kurjat kulkurit
Joutuvat kuraisilla kujilla kulkemaan
Katsokaan kallehia kanssakulkijaisia,
Jotka kauhistuneita katseita keräävät,
Kuka voisi auttaa noita apeutuneita asukkaita,
Armahimmat asuntasijaset saamaan.

Oi mistä löytyy kaunehimmat kasvattopaikkaset,
Kaikille kallehille kanssakulkijoisille.

Oo, oommeko yhessä yrittäneet tarpeeksi,
Että eheinä saisi kaikki elellä,
Ettei vain onnekkaimmat,
Kaikkea onnea itselleen ottaisi,
Kaikkea valtaa, omaisuutta itselleen haalisi,
Ja kaikkea yksin hallitsisi.

Oi, armahat syntyset,
Antakaa armoa,
Apeutuneille asukkaille,
Ja kurjille kulkijaisille.”

Jos video ei näy, löydät sen YouTubesta täältä.

Events John Westmoreland News

New Interpretations: Night of the Arts 2022

Author: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander & LOTTA LEIWO

New Interpretations – Night of the Arts 2022

(Jos haluat lukea tekstin suomeksi, löydät sen täältä.)

On a hot summer evening on August 18 our project organized an event that was part of the Night of the Arts concept in Helsinki. Night of the Arts is part of three-week Helsinki Festival, a night when anyone can organize an art event in the city. The theme of our event was “New interpretations”.

Our project’s artistic John Westmoreland and his “found friends”; Luode band plus folk musician Emmi Kuittinen performed to a crowd of approximately 100 in Topelia courtyard, a beautiful garden in the University of Helsinki city centre campus. Most of the crowd enjoyed the gig at Thirsty Scholar’s terrace. Before their performance, our PI Kirsti Salmi-Niklander presented our project to the audience. You can watch the presentation on Unitube or read the transcript below. After the introduction you find two recorded videos of the musical performance.

People sitting on ground, band playing: keyboardist and guitarist.
People listening John Westmoreland perform at Topelia. © Lotta Leiwo 2022.
Female speaking to a microphone. Band set: keyboards, drum set. A van and Topelia building in the background.
Kirsti Salmi-Niklander presenting the project. Click the image to view the presentation video (mostly in English). © Lotta Leiwo 2022.

”Welcome to this music event presented by the research and artistic project T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America funded by Kone Foundation. This project explores the transnational poetics and networks of the migrant left in North America through the unique character of T-Bone Slim. This was the pseudonym of Matti Valentininpoika Huhta (1882–1942), who was one of the most seminal figures in the US Labor movement. He was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, 1882. His parents and most of their siblings had emigrated from Kälviä, Central Ostrobothnia a few years earlier. He died in 1942 in New York by drowning to the East River. T-Bone Slim was a legendary hobo, songwriter, poet, and columnist in the periodicals of the IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World) movement. He wrote his texts in English, even though we now have discovered at least one text which he might have written in Finnish in a local newspaper in Ashtabula when he was about 20 years.

T-Bone Slim’s writings were forgotten for a long time. They were published in newspapers and periodicals of the IWW movement. In 1960s T-Bone Slim’s writings inspired the Chicago surrealist movement and the Civil Rights movement. But, he stayed out of the limelight and his identity remained as a mystery for most of his readers. Few years ago, John Westmoreland, the musician and artist in our project, discovered that T-Bone Slim actually was his great-granduncle Matt, who was kind of black sheep of the family. Our project has originated with John’s residence period funded by Kone Foundation last year.

In our artistic and research project we trace the life and networks of T-Bone Slim, and the social, cultural, and political movements in which he operated. Our project group is very international: Myself and our research assistant Lotta Leiwo work here in Topelia, and we have focused on T-Bone Slim’s family history and his early years, based on materials in National Library and Finnish Literature Society. We also made an exciting field trip to Kälviä in May. Saku Pinta is Finnish-Canadian researcher based in Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. Marija Dalbello is originally from Croatia, but now a professor of Information Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Saijaleena Rantanen from Arts University and has been working on IWW songs, and Samira Saramo from Migration Institute of Finland are also involved in the project. Owen Clayton from University of Lincoln in the UK has written so far, the only academic articles on T-Bone Slim’s literary works, and he is a collaborator in the project. Our project functions mostly virtually, and we have explored archival and library materials both in the US and in Finland. Next year we will finally meet face-to-face in Finland in our final seminar. There will be events both in Helsinki and in Kokkola and Kälviä in mid-August, so stay tuned! Our project has a website and a blog, Facebook page and a Twitter account where we publish the results of our research.

John Westmoreland has been working on new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s songs, and his album “Resurrection” will be coming soon. Two songs have already been released on YouTube: music video “Harvest Land” and “Weary Years”. John has also made research on the background of these songs. He will introduce the texts of the songs he’s performing. Tonight, we will hear some of these new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s songs. John will be accompanied by “Luode” band, Antero Kulju and Jussi Villgren, and folk musician Emmi Kuittinen.”

After Kirsti’s presentation, John Westmoreland & co. performed new interpretations of T-Bone Slim’s texts.

“Popular Wobbly”

If the video is not showing, you view it on YouTube here.

In “Street Beggars”, folk musician Emmi Kuittinen performs a lament inspired by T-Bone Slim. Emmi introduces the lament:

“The short lament piece in this song is created following Karelian lament style in my own language, Finnish. T-Bone Slim’s text “Street Beggars” inspired me to create this lament.”

Translated lament lyrics:

“Listen how the wretched vagrants,
Are forced to wander through miserable alleys,
Look at the poor fellow-travellers,
Who gather terrified glances.

Who could help those dejected citizens,
To get the most merciful lodgings,
Oh, where are the fairest nurseries to be found,
To all the good fellow travellers.

Oh, have we tried enough together,
That we may all live in integrity,
That not only the lucky ones,
To take all the happiness for themselves,
All the power, all the wealth,
And rule all alone.

O, merciful divine powers of ancestors,
Have mercy,
To the downtrodden inhabitants,
And to the wretched wanderers.”

If the video is not showing, you view it on YouTube here.

John Westmoreland Research Trips

Finding My Finnish Roots

Author: John Westmoreland

Finding My Finnish Roots and a Lost Chapter of Family History

My great great grandparents—Matti and Brita Johanna Huhta—left Kälviä Finland in 1879 to seek a new life in the United States. They settled in Ashtabula, Ohio along the coastline of Lake Erie where they raised a family of five children which included their eldest son, Matti V. Huhta (T-Bone Slim), and their youngest daughter, Sofie Huhta, my great grandmother. Neither T-Bone, Sofie, or any of the other Huhta children ever had the chance to set foot in their ancestral homeland.

In fact, it seems that none of the subsequent generations of Huhta descendants made it back to Finland until the summer of 2018 when I had an opportunity to make my first visit to the old country. That trip came about in a rather interesting way. At the time, I had been focusing on the release of my first album, Cast Firesending emails, making phone calls, and generally working on promotion of the record. Simultaneously I was also trying to unearth as much information as I could about my recently rediscovered Finnish American relative, the hobo songwriter, poet, and IWW columnist known as T-Bone Slim. At times it seemed I was neglecting my responsibilities to the album project and was instead devoting most of my energy to following the trail of scattered breadcrumbs which outlined the life of my great granduncle. By doing so I hoped that I would piece together a more complete picture and understanding of who he was, where he came from, and thereby pay homage to his forgotten legacy and uncover a lost chapter of my own family history.

Black and white photo of an elderly lady in dark dress standing on grass by trees
T-Bone’s mother Brita Johanna Huhta. Photo: Westmoreland Family archive.
Sepia coloured old photo, portrait of two men. One man is sitting and another is standing. Curtain mural background

T-Bone’s Father (sitting). The identity of the other man is unknown. Photo: Westmoreland Family archive.

One day, as I was writing emails attempting to book shows supporting the release of Cast Fire, I had a bit of a strange idea pop into my head. Why not reach out to some people in the Finnish music scene and see if there might be any opportunities for me to perform my own original music and new versions of T-Bone Slim’s songs in Finland? It seemed like a long shot, but I also felt a kind of mystical and synchronistic sense that the spirit of T-Bone Slim was somehow being resurrected in these times—as if something auspicious was in the air… So, I acted on the impulse, and through internet searches found the names and information of some Finnish booking agents to contact. I wrote up a few emails telling the agents who I was, giving a brief overview of T-Bone Slim, and asking if they might like to book me a summer tour in Finland. However, soon after I sent those messages, I began to question the soundness of my little email campaign. I started to wonder if I might be coming off as some entitled American expecting to find open doors in Finland just because his great grandmother’s older brother was an iconic hobo of Finnish descent. So I went to bed that evening feeling like a fool, sure that my emails would be completely ignored. But to my great surprise when I checked my inbox the next morning there was a response from an agent in Helsinki saying that my project sounded very interesting, and he would be happy to help! He mentioned that a book had recently been published about T-Bone Slim by author Ville Juhani-Sutinen, and that a well-known Finnish Hip Hop Artist, Paleface, had just formed Laulava Unioni a band that plays Finnish IWW songs including ones written by my great granduncle. The agent put me in contact with both Ville and Paleface and helped me to get shows lined up for the summer.

My first performance in Finland was with Paleface in Porvoo during late August 2018. At some point in the show Karri told the audience that “We have here the flesh and blood of T-Bone Slim!” And got the crowd to call out “Welcome home John!” It was a really heartwarming and meaningful experience for me; to come to a land and culture that is totally new and experience such an open-hearted reception. I went on to have a great run of shows in various cities and towns around Finland and finished the trip by filming a music video for one of my original songs The Sparrow with Finnish director and cinematographer Cristal Alakoski. I returned to the States that fall with a lot of enthusiasm and began planning a new recording project, a collection of songs written by T-Bone Slim.

Selfie of two men in a garage. Both men have beard, the other is bald, other has long hair. Graffiti of old Frankenstein looking man in the background
Paleface and John in Tampere 2022. Photo: Karri Miettinen 2022.
Graffiti mural on the end of a house. Text “T-Bone Slim Tear Gas” and image of a tear gas bottle with a text: “The most effective agent used by employers to persuade their employees that the interests of capital and labor are identical.” Man playing guitar in front of the graffiti mural.
John playing by Antti Männynväli’s T-Bone Slim Tear Gas mural in Kangasala 2021. Photo: Antti Männynväli 2021.
Graffiti “T-Bone Slim”. Two men: one standing, doing graffiti and other sitting and playing guitar. Water in front, road railing in the back. Text in the bottom: "Worries make the child sing."
Antti Männynväli creating T-Bone Slim graffiti while John plays Weary Years. Photo: Tommi Virtanen 2021.

I’ve come back to Finland every summer since, with the exception of 2020. On these trips I’ve had beautiful experiences performing my own renditions of T-Bone Slim’s songs at venues, festivals, and even busking on the streets of Helsinki. I’ve also met many wonderful musicians, artists, and researchers who have become friends and collaborators, and I’ve learned more than I ever hoped to know about the culture and circumstances in which my Finnish ancestors lived.

Man performing on a stage with a guitar. Plants and flowers, three persons playing and singing in the background.]
John performing at Valkeakoski Workers Music Festival 2022. Photo: Esa Kuloniemi 2022.

One of the highlights of my travels in Finland so far has been the opportunity to visit “torppa” sites in Kälviä where my Huhta great great grandparents lived before they immigrated to the U.S. A local historian in Kälviä, Jukka Hilli, guided myself and fellow T-Bone Slim researchers Kirsti Salmi-Niklander and Lotta Leiwo to the locations (blog entries about this trip in English here or in Finnish here). One of these torppas, Hietakangas, where T-Bone’s mother Brita Johanna lived as a child, was particularly memorable as there’s a giant spruce tree right in front of the remains of the cellar. It’s a tree which is undoubtedly old enough that it must have been there in the 1860’s when she was growing up.

Man standing before a giant spruce in a forest.
John with the spruce tree at Hietakangas. Photo: Lotta Leiwo 2022.
Selfie of two men standing outside. The other has beard and long hair and other a cap hat.
John (left) and Jukka Hilli. Photo: John Westmoreland 2022.

In August 2021, as the culmination of a four month artist residency at the Kone Foundation’s Lauttasaari Manor, university lecturer and title of docent Kirsti Salmi-Niklander and I hosted the first ever T-Bone Slim seminar which was held at the Finnish Literature Society. It brought together academics, musicians, artists, and writers to present the life and work of Matti V. Huhta to an international audience for the first time. The seminar also helped lay the groundwork for this project, ‘T-Bone Slim and the Transnational Poetics of the Migrant Left in North America’, which is being funded by the Kone Foundation. Our team has produced a wealth of new research. I’m excited to continue this collaboration and look forward to sharing new findings, music, and art which arises from our efforts.

John Westmoreland performs on the Night of the Arts on 18 August 2022 at Topelia courtyard, Helsinki with Luode band and folk musician Emmi Kuittinen. See more details on our events page or on Facebook.