It's nearly Earth Day, so we thought we'd honor the environment with the Hudson River's most famous advocate - Pete Seeger. In this excerpt from the 1986 documentary film "The Mountain in the City," Seeger sings the song "Garbage" live with trash barges in New York Harbor in the background. The film was produced by New York State Legislative Commission on Solid Waste Management and has been digitized and shared by the New York State Archives.
Originally written by folk musician Bill Steele in 1969 after observing the practice dumping trash into San Francisco Bay to create fill for new construction, the song was an instant hit, coinciding with the first Earth Day in 1970. Covered by a number of folk musicians, including Seeger, "Garbage" remains a popular environmental anthem today. It was appropriate to include in "The Mountain in the City," as New York City at the time dumped its garbage directly into the ocean, a practice that did not stop until 1992.
GARBAGE - LYRICS
Mister Thompson calls the waiter, orders steak and baked potato
(Then) he leaves the bone and gristle and he never eats the skin
The busboy comes and takes it, with a cough contaminates it
(And he) puts it in a can with coffee grounds and sardine tins
And the truck comes by on Friday and carts it all away
A thousand trucks just like it are converging on the Bay
Oh, Garbage, garbage, garbage, garbage
We're filling up the seas with garbage
What will we do when there's no place left
To put all the garbage
Mr. Thompson starts his Cadillac and winds it down the freeway track
Leaving friends and neighbors in a hydrocarbon haze
He's joined by lots of smaller cars all sending gases to the stars
There to form a seething cloud that hangs for thirty days
And the sun licks down into it with an ultraviolet tongue
(Till it) turns to smog and then it settles in our lungs
Oh, Garbage, garbage
We're filling up the sky with garbage
What will we do, when there's nothing left to breathe but garbage
Getting home and taking off his shoes he settles with the evening news
While the kids do homework with the TV in one ear
While Superman for thousandth's time sell talking dolls and conquers crime
(They) dutifully learn the date of birth of Paul Revere
In the paper there's a piece about the mayor's middle name
(And) he gets it done in time to watch the all-star bingo game
We're filling up our minds with garbage
What will we do when there's nothing left to read
And there's nothing left to need
There's nothing left to watch
There's nothing left to touch
There's nothing left to walk upon
And nothing left to ponder on
Nothing left to see
And nothing left to be but garbage
In Mr. Thompson's factory they're making plastic Christmas trees
Complete with silver tinsel and a geodesic stand
The plastic's mixed in giant vats, from some conglomeration that's
Been piped from deep within the Earth, or strip-mined from the land
And if you ask them questions they say "why don't you see?
It's absolutely needed for the economy."
Oh, garbage, garbage, garbage
Their stocks and their bonds all garbage
What will they do when their system go to smash
There's no value to their cash
There's no money to be made
That there's a world to be repaid
Their kids will read in history book
About financiers and other crooks
And feudalism and slavery
And nukes and all their knavery
To history's dustbin they're consigned,
Along with many other kinds of garbage
If you'd like to learn more about Seeger and his role and the role of the Hudson River in the modern environmental movement, check out our online exhibit, Rescuing the River.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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