Life has got a habit of not standing hitched. You got to ride it like you find it. You got to change with it. If a day goes by that don’t change some of your old notions for new ones, that is just about like trying to milk a dead cow.
Eleven days ago would have been Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday, which caused a lot of airtime for his music and discussion of his legacy on my local public radio station. I certainly knew the name and the basic story of Woody Guthrie, but the more I listened the more interested I became. Woody Guthrie is most definitely a name worth remembering.
Guthrie was born in Oklahoma and faced hardship early in his life with the death of his sister and also his mother, from Huntington’s disease, the same disease which would later take Woody’s life. He was also affected greatly by the dust bowl which not only was the driving force behind his move to California, but was also a major inspiration for many of his songs.
Woody was a man of the people, many of his songs championing the poor and displaced of his era. His songs addressed everything from racism to fascism, income inequality to environmentalism, from Judaism to children’s issues. Probably the most famous Guthrie song is This Land is My Land which he actually wrote to counter Irving Berlin’s God Bless America which Woody found too unrealistic.
To say that Guthrie was a prolific artist would only be the beginning. He wrote thousands of songs, books, articles and poems and he also painted. He pleaded for the opportunity to join the USO in WWII where he sang anti-fascist songs to the delight of the soldiers, boosting moral and entertaining at the same time. Woody used his talents to both inform the public about what was going on in the world but also to change that world.
From what I have read it seems that Woody wrote music only to make a difference, not to make money, not to become famous, but to change the world in which he lived and there is no doubt that he did just that by essentially creating folk music and inspiring directly (Bob Dylan) or indirectly (everyone else) every folk musician to come behind him.
A folk song is what’s wrong and how to fix it or it could be
who’s hungry and where their mouth is or
who’s out of work and where the job is or
who’s broke and where the money is or
who’s carrying a gun and where the peace is.