the rare music fan: Woody Guthrie
happy holly-daze, ladies and gents and ladies, it's been awhile but your late night/early mornin' d.j. has returned to give you a little hors d'oeuvre with your aperitif, be it four roses or alka-seltzer.
subject: woody guthrie, poet of the people, minstrel of the labor unions, rabid opponent of fascism everywhere. every american schoolchild sings woody's "this land is your land," for all the wrong reasons. the administrators have handed it back to them, sanitized and jingoized for your enjoyment, and whatever ancient vinyl they learn it from, it is certainly not woody's voice they hear. rather, they hear a plethora of perfectly pitched, scrubbed and polished, rosey-cheeked, all-american children like you oughta be if you're a good little mccarthyist boy or girl. and they certainly never here such verses as:
As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no trespassin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!
In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.
chances are, the schoolkids learn it right after they learn irving berlin's "god bless america," and that is the greatest crime of all.
you see, "this land is your land" was written as an answer song to "god bless america"; in fact, the original title of woody's immortal ditty, written to the tune of the old hymn "when the world's on fire," was "god blessed america for me." let's ruminate on that for a moment and kick the fuckin' starry-eyed, flag-wavin', harmonizin', patronizin' little urchins out of the room and sit in the hobo jungles or on a highball freight with woody. "god blessed america for me," motherfucker! for me too! for me down here in the salinas orange groves and the amarillo oilfields, tryin' to survive with 300 other families on a trickling spring of water while we live in a shack built from cardboard and old hammered out tin cans, just hopin' one of these mean bastards here that constantly sic the high sheriff on us will change his mind and deign to give us work pickin' a goddamn ton of peaches for a goddamn dollar--with shotgun-wieldin' overseers makin' damn good and sure we don't eat a single fuckin' one even if it's rotten--god blessed america for me too, asshole! it's not about your fuckin' "stand beside and guide her." guide her where? who's guidin' her? god? well, he's doin' a shit-poor job of it. so fuck that, "this land was made for you and me." no goddamn idea by who or by what, and by all means, you can have your piece but i'm through beggin' you for mine. time to join that union two by two, which side are you on?
that's the voice of woody. that's the voice that bob dylan honored with his first released original composition, "song to woody," written to the tune of woody's "1913 massacre," a topical song about a shameless practical joke on a group of striking miners in calumet, michigan, that led to the wrongful deaths of 73 people, mostly children. here's a fantastic performance of the song by dylan in dresden, germany, in 2000.
and because i'm sure you won't be able to understand 80% of what the fuck he says, here's the lyrics:
I'm out here a thousand miles from my home,
Walkin' a road other men have gone down.
I'm seein' your world of people and things,
Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings.
Hey, hey Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
'Bout a funny ol' world that's a-comin' along.
Seems sick an' it's hungry, it's tired an' it's torn,
It looks like it's a-dyin' an' it's hardly been born.
Hey, Woody Guthrie, but I know that you know
All the things that I'm a-sayin' an' a-many times more.
I'm a-singin' you the song, but I can't sing enough,
'Cause there's not many men that done the things that you've done.
Here's to Cisco an' Sonny an' Leadbelly too,
An' to all the good people that traveled with you.
Here's to the hearts and the hands of the men
That come with the dust and are gone with the wind.
I'm a-leaving' tomorrow, but I could leave today,
Somewhere down the road someday.
The very last thing that I'd want to do
Is to say I've been hittin' some hard travelin' too.
and now here's the man himself, in one of only two film clips of him that were ever made, performing the traditional american song "john henry." the other guitarist is the great josh white and the fantastic harmonica player is the incomparable sonny terry (the "sonny" of dylan's song), who was blind. i'll shut up now because it speaks for itself.
"I asked my father,
I said, 'Father change my name.'
The one I'm using now it's covered up
with fear and filth and cowardice and shame."