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Happy Birthday Woody Guthrie
July 14, 2011 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Today would have been Woody Guthrie's ...99th birthday, and the beginning of his centennial year.
"Woody is just Woody. Thousands of people do not know he has any other name. He is just a voice and a guitar. He sings the songs of a people and I suspect that he is, in a way, that people. Harsh voiced and nasal, his guitar hanging like a tire iron on a rusty rim, there is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who will listen. There is the will of a people to endure and fight against oppression. I think we call this the American spirit." - John Steinbeck
For fans, there's a webpage to organize events and such around his centennial. And here's something for those that don't know his work, and those that want to remember:

This Land Is Your Land
Biggest Thing Man Has Ever Done
Talking Dustbowl Blues
So long it's been good to know you
posted by Stagger Lee (48 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for remembering. Heart Breaking and Hopeful.
posted by rmhsinc at 12:56 PM on July 14, 2011


Nice post, but isn't today his 99th?
posted by HumanComplex at 12:59 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


This jpeg kills fascists.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:00 PM on July 14, 2011 [15 favorites]


I can't go, but Arlo is playing at the Barrymore in Madison, WI tonight; should be special.
posted by Mngo at 1:03 PM on July 14, 2011


"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 lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you. I could hire out to the other side, the big money side, and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own kind of songs and to sing the kind that knock you down still farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think you've not any sense at all. 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
posted by entropicamericana at 1:06 PM on July 14, 2011 [19 favorites]


Yeah, that should have read "...99th birthday, and the beginning of his centennial year." But it got lost in the frenzy of un-previewed post typing. Thanks for noticing and not being a jerk about it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:07 PM on July 14, 2011


Come back Woody Guthrie.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:11 PM on July 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


The fact that woody's This Land Is Your Land isn't the national anthem is a crying shame.
posted by The Whelk at 1:17 PM on July 14, 2011 [25 favorites]


There's something oddly fitting about Woody Guthrie and Metafilter sharing a birthday.
posted by joedan at 1:18 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even more fitting is that Woody Guthrie shares a birthday with the anniversary of the storming of a prison by revolutionaries.
posted by Kattullus at 1:25 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


What The Whelk said.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 1:26 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the first music I ever checked out at the library was Dust Bowl Ballads, which began up a life of library trips to find any Folkways albums available.

... You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You'll find God in the church of your choice
You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital

And though it's only my opinion
I may be right or wrong
You'll find them both
In the Grand Canyon
At sundown

posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 1:26 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


there is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings

Oh I'm gonna have to dispute that. From the Mermaid Ave compilations, there are many sweet songs, notably Remember The Mountain Bed - equally sad and romantic.

Good post.
posted by elendil71 at 1:28 PM on July 14, 2011


"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 lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work."

"You're bound to lose, you fascists, you bound to lose."

--All You Fascists (later reimagined by Billy Bragg and Wilco)
posted by dismas at 1:31 PM on July 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sad to say that it was the Mermaid Avenue albums that brought Woody Guthrie to my attention.

I found his autobiography "Bound for Glory" wonderful reading experience...in fact, I might start reading it again today.
posted by robotot at 1:32 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.

"Pretty Boy Floyd."
posted by jbickers at 1:34 PM on July 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I heard Woody Guthrie from an early age, my mother was born at the beginning of the Great Depression, to a flapper and a bootlegger, who lost everything on the stock market. If it hadn't been for the Stock Market Crash, I might have been born into wealth.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:46 PM on July 14, 2011


"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 lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work."

I like some Woody Guthrie songs, but I sure am glad that others disregard this songwriting moralism -- that is, that whatever worked for him, his fight against such songs has not been wholly successful.

I think this kind of didacticism probably appealed quite a bit to Steinbeck, and served him in his own work very poorly.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:48 PM on July 14, 2011


I like some Woody Guthrie songs, but I sure am glad that others disregard this songwriting moralism -- that is, that whatever worked for him, his fight against such songs has not been wholly successful.

I'd really be interested to hear an example of what songs he felt like he was responding to.
posted by dismas at 1:51 PM on July 14, 2011


The Jolly Banker
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

My name is Tom Cranker and I'm a jolly banker,
I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I safeguard the farmers and widows and orphans,
Singin' I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When dust storms are sailing, and crops they are failing,
I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I check up your shortage and bring down your mortgage,
Singin' I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When money you're needing, and mouths you are feeding,
I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I'll plaster your home with a furniture loan,
Singin' I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

If you show me you need it, I'll let you have credit,
I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
Just bring me back two for the one I lend you,
Singin' I'm jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When your car you're losin', and sadly your cruisin',
I'm a jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I'll come and forclose, get your car and your clothes,
Singin' I'm jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When the bugs get your cotton, the times they are rotten,
I'm jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I'll come down and help you, I'll rake you and scalp you,
Singin' I'm jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

When the landlords abuse you, or sadly misuse you,
I'm jolly banker, jolly banker am I.
I'll send down the police chief to keep you from mischief,
Singin' I'm jolly banker, jolly banker am I.

posted by entropicamericana at 1:51 PM on July 14, 2011


oh dear, i pasted that at the wrong time, didn't i?

Woody often contradicted himself, he contained multitudes.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:53 PM on July 14, 2011


there is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings

Indeed. I remember listening to his children's songs growing up; loved "Don't You Push Me Down".
posted by Melismata at 1:54 PM on July 14, 2011


Thanks for posting "Biggest Thing Man Has Ever Done"

I think that's about my favorite Guthrie tune.
posted by eyeballkid at 1:55 PM on July 14, 2011


[edited post per OPs request, carry on]
posted by jessamyn at 1:56 PM on July 14, 2011


Ah, me old. Roquette notes his mom born at beginning of Great Depression. Me too. My former wife, now dead, sat in theatre where fund raiser going on for Guthrie's medical needs. Guthrie was in a box at the place (Carnegie Hall, I think it was).
But if you like Guthrie's music, then also try his autobiography, with his great drawings in it.
posted by Postroad at 1:58 PM on July 14, 2011



Woody often contradicted himself, he contained multitudes.


Words are spoken for a moment, not perpetuity. He most likely meant the quote when he said it, but I certainly wouldn't accuse him of hypocrisy if some of his songs failed to fit that mold.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:59 PM on July 14, 2011


My man.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:59 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jesus Christ was a man who traveled through the land,
A hard-working man and brave.
He said to the rich, "Give your money to the poor,"
But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave.

posted by EarBucket at 2:36 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I grew up on his stuff. Mom was big Guthrie/Seeger fan and a bit of a revolutionary herself so hearing his music always makes me feel like a little kid again. It's sad that so many of his lyrics are still way too relevant.
posted by octothorpe at 2:57 PM on July 14, 2011


I went to visit his hometown, Okemah, in Oklahoma. I'm sad to report that "patria nemo propheta est" is quite true in Okemah. I found a totem, but I could not find a museum or much of anything other. (I know there is a bronze statue but I could not locate it.)
posted by francesca too at 2:59 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The fact that woody's This Land Is Your Land isn't the national anthem is a crying shame.

I'm with you on that. But there's that whole issue of those other pinko verses that show up in some different recordings and a manuscript of the lyrics:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
This land was made for you and me


and

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?


And this song always makes me smile, I can see him making it up for his kids.
posted by marxchivist at 3:02 PM on July 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Do Re Mi
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:06 PM on July 14, 2011


Oh yeah, and if the The Car Song makes me smile, Plane Wreck at Los Gatos always makes me have something in my eye. Wikipedia article on that song.
posted by marxchivist at 3:15 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Plane Wreck at Los Gatos always makes me have something in my eye.

*sniffles* I'm tearing up just singing it in my head: "Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita. Adios mi amigos, Jesus and Maria..."
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:26 PM on July 14, 2011


Last thoughts on Woody Guthrie
posted by docgonzo at 3:29 PM on July 14, 2011


As a European kid at various American schools, Woody was a staple, and "This land is your land" was the national anthem, as far as we were concerned.
For me, and I think for thousand of others, Woody was the America we believed in.
posted by mumimor at 3:40 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


In honor of Woody, on one of my diddley bows (that's a one-string guitar, y'all) I wrote:

"this machine slightly irritates undecided voters".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:41 PM on July 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


My total personal favourite: Talking Hard Work. Absolutely freakin' hilarious. "...I've been busted & I've been disgusted..."
posted by ovvl at 5:05 PM on July 14, 2011


This makes me very happy. Thank you for the post!
posted by ms.jones at 5:06 PM on July 14, 2011


Nice post...thanks!

I go to the ark in a2 every year to see arlo, I always love it when he does songs by his father.
posted by tomswift at 5:36 PM on July 14, 2011


Jiggle, jiggle, jiggle, jiggle,
Tickle, tickle, tickle, tickle,
Little sack o sugar
I could eat you up.

Some of you with little ones might enjoy Daddy-O Daddy! Rare Family Songs of Woody Guthrie.
posted by Sailormom at 6:42 PM on July 14, 2011


Thanks for this post. Guthrie embodied everything big and wonderful about America, and in my mind, always will.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:22 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


And by America, I mean the people, not necessarily the state or its politicians.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:56 PM on July 14, 2011


"I said God bless the mine workers' union, then I hung my head and cried."
posted by Abiezer at 9:35 PM on July 14, 2011


I just want to say, every computer I've owned (even on my Newton) had at some point on it a background that reminded me that that particular machine could help defeat fascists. Partly 'cause it's true, and partly because I had to hold myself to a higher standard thanks to Woody.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:52 PM on July 14, 2011


I'm the meanest man that ever had a brain, all I scatter is aches and pains
posted by benzenedream at 12:48 AM on July 15, 2011


Excellent post. I named one of my cats Pretty Boy Floyd, in honor of a giant white mark across his face that makes him look like the good kind of outlaw. I sing his song to him all the time.

This quote gave me goosebumps:

I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.


I love the fact that there are a few contemporary singers (most notably, Billy Bragg and Bruce Springsteen) who speak out and remind us that Woody existed in the first place. Without him, we wouldn't have Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, and so many others. Apropos of nothing, really, I live in the same town as Pete Seeger, and the local sloop club is home to the Sloop Woody Guthrie, a sister vessel to Seeger's Sloop Clearwater, one of the driving forces responsible for cleaning up the Hudson River. Woody's impact is so much greater than any of realize, I think.

Interesting quote from Steinbeck, too. I recently reread The Grapes of Wrath, and it really does feel like one big Woody song.

Oh and lastly, stupidsexyFlanders, thanks for reminding me of Steve Earle's Christmastime in Washington. The first time I heard this I was driving home from work, and it was still playing as I pulled into my driveway. I just sat there until it finished, crying my eyes out.

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now
--Steve Earle

posted by flyingsquirrel at 4:10 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The fact that woody's This Land Is Your Land isn't the national anthem is a crying shame.

Peter Seeger had this to say on that subject:

One young fellow wrote me that he was starting a campaign to make the song the national anthem. I wrote him, "Please stop! Can't you see U.S. Marines marching into another little country playing this song?" In any case, I for one would be sorry to see it made an official anthem. A song is not a speech. Like any work of art, it has many meanings for many people. It reflects new meanings as life shines new lights upon it. To make This Land Is Your Land an official song would be to rob it of its poetic career and doom it to a political straitjacket, no matter how well-fitting the jacket might seem to be at the time.

Not sure how that reflects how Woody would have felt about it.
posted by mikepop at 8:09 AM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


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