My thoughts on Woody Guthrie
My first thoughts on Woody were “wow”…A voice as rough as the imagined floor of a freight train and romantic as a mountain sunset and as real as the dirt on the Oklahoma farms I dreamt about from my Brooklyn neighborhood. Woody Guthrie who seemingly could make a song up on the spot. Woody Guthrie who with simple language could cut through layers of bullshit and make history real, make history breathe, who could write the most innocent childrens verse and the most scathing political diatribe or erotic poetry. Woody was a writer who understood to make a difference you needed to communicate and at the heart of communicating you need to talk to people not at or above them. Like Pete said of him” Any fool can get complicated, a genius attains simplicity.”
I met Nora when I was in high school sometime in the early 70’s. Many of my friends took dance lessons from Marjorie’s (Guthrie-Mazia) studio, and Nora was performing at my school…I cried and told her Woody changed my life unlike any other person.
I came to Woody through Dylan and Ochs. Woody was the guy they were trying to become. Dylan and Elliot almost did. Woody showed that you could be anything “too fat too old too young too slim” but you could still have a voice and you still mattered. And that if everyone could stand together, you couldn’t be ignored.
Woody did things like write Tom Joad so that people who couldn’t afford the money to see Henry Fonda in Grapes of Wrath, or read the book could get the point of the story. Woody let us know that the Dust was gonna get us, and Pretty Boy Floyd left “a hundred dollar bill” under the plates of the families that fed him. He had no home is this world anymore, but he lived in the hearts and the minds of those he touched.
Today I’m sitting at my computer looking at poster of Woody with the quote that starts with “I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to loose…” and ends with “But I decided a long time ago that I’d starve to death before I’d sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow.”
Woody was the penultimate American precisely because of his optimism, integrity and love of this country and all it’s people. Woody must have been reading tea leaves when he wrote those words. Did Woody know that John Hogan and the Mays family would rip the heart out of radio, making a vibrant local medium a bland predigested homogonized box of boredom…Today our airwaves are controled by huge corporations and the best art is coming up from the streets–but it always does, doesn’t it? Just like a scrawny sign painter from Okemo.
Every so often we get lucky and great art cuts through the bolus of pop culture to entice and make us shake shimmy and think…And when we’re really lucky, great music not only makes us think but can inform our actions as well as our minds. Woody showed us that we can make a difference. Woody showed us that if our ideas were good, our purpose noble, our words honest, and we worked on it, we could get people to listen…Woody Guthrie made a difference in my life, and I’m forever in his debt.