Bobby Fischer, Joe Glazer & union activism
The Ballad of Bobby Fischer
By pure chance this morning I learned of the existence of ‘The Ballad of Bobby Fischer‘, written by Joe Glazer. I was flipping thru the extensive archives of ‘California Chess History‘ when I came across Frank Brady’s review from March-April 1972(!).
Wow! That is before Fischer even sat down to play Boris Spassky later in the summer of that year. In this age (the internet era) much of what you read about Bobby Fischer since his death in 2008 is either fabricated (fake photos, as just one obvious example) or exaggerated, so it is a real find to come across something legitimate, accurate and verifiable.
Joe Glazer: Working Class Hero
Joe Glazer (June 19, 1918 to September 19, 2006) was a multi-talented individual who used his considerable folk–singer/writer skills to promote union activism and workers’ rights in America. Glazer has more than 30 records to his name and a number of books.
Why would Glazer find a retro—Bobby Fischer personnage a subject worthy of a song? Probably because he could sympathize and associate his own life-long struggle for worker’s rights and was inspired by Fischer’s solitary efforts to ‘fight against the system’ and to try to improve the lot of all chess players (better playing conditions, more money, respect, etc), which often meant Bobby Fischer withdrawing from the chess scene, sometimes for years, which is, effectively, going on strike! Even today this is a revolutionary idea in our chess community.
If you may have noticed, the actual lyrics in the YouTube video differ from the lyrics mentioned by Frank Brady. I will try to find out why, but I assume it is because the song went thru many re-writes. The final YouTube version is just over 3 minutes long, while the original recording was about 7 minutes long!
Add to this confusion, the song was originally written BEFORE the Fischer-Spassky match turned chess into a big part of pop-culture, and perhaps Joe Glazer wanted to use this to help commercialize the ballad.
You can find the original lyrics and commentary by Joe Glazer himself and related correspondence HERE. Before Joe passed away, he donated his entire collection (and the rights) to the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, which has meticulously documented Glazer’s work.