“Folk singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie was born on July 14, 1912, yet his words, music, and mission continue to stir us as if he were a contemporary figure, not just a legendary one. On what would have been his 100th birthday, NPR produced a retrospective on Guthrie that included this insightful quote from Time‘s Joe Klein, who wrote a biography of the iconic figure in 1980.
“The further we get away from Woody’s birth and death, and take a look at his influence, [the more] it helps us learn about ourselves as Americans… There’s a wild-ass quality to this country that he personified. I go around the country. The greatest fear is that we’re losing that — we’re losing our creativity, our individualism. Woody was an individual, and a militantly individual individual.”
Woody wrote songs about income inequality, political power inequality, undocumented immigrants, poor people and their struggles (think the rising number of homeless and jobless), the dust bowl (think California drought), crooked politicians, corrupt bankers, and much more that is applicable to the circumstances of today, which has been created by rich folks utilizing the levers of political power that their ill gotten gains are able to purchase. Woody’s songs have been recorded by a massive number of singers, ranging from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Brian Wilson, Billy Bragg, and U2.
One of my favorite Woody Guthrie quotes is his philosophy of song writing
“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.
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 your work.”
In his web-only video essay, “Bill Moyers looks back at the singer-songwriter’s life and work, finding many points of irony and relevance given the current state of our economy and democracy. Is this land truly made for you and me? In this visual and musical journey, Bill asks the question, and puts forth a sobering answer.”
To check out Bill’s video on Woody Guthrie, click on the link below.