This year marks the centenary of American folk singer Woody Guthrie’s birth. The anniversary has become the occasion for commemorations and conferences held throughout the US, as well as the opening of a new museum and archive in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (See: “Will the Woody Guthrie Museum in Oklahoma distort the folksinger’s views?”) The celebrations underscore that six decades after Huntington’s disease prematurely ended his artistic career, Woody Guthrie remains a contemporary figure.
Guthrie was a politically conscious artist, but he was an artist first and it would be wrong to appraise him solely through the lens of his social views. His prolific output embraced a broad swath of human experience down to the dozens of children’s songs he recorded.
At the same time, it is not surprising that Guthrie’s political material remains some of his most popular and enduring. After all, the scourges of capitalism which Guthrie sang about still plague the world’s population.
Woody Guthrie has meant many different things to me at many different times. At an early age, I learned "This Land Is Your Land" in school -- I assume this true in most schools and not just a Bay Area of California thing.
And it was a sing-song type of song when you're a little kid.
He's come to mean more to me in recent years. Now he represents attacks by people who are quick to attack and will toss reasons on top regardless of whether the reasons are apt or not.
When did that meaning pop up for me?
You may remember a great report by Ruth where she talked about a very bad WBAI radio program that she liked -- a Native American one -- and she called out the program because they began attacking Woody Guthrie for things he did not write or sing.
They devoted a show to him and yet the host and the guest were not even talking about him. They had confused his sons with someone else's.
They weren't interested in discussing Woody Guthrie despite his being the topic of their show (which may have been longer than an hour -- at that point, I think the show was on only once a month). They were interested in attacking a White man.
Anyone would do.
I never noticed that before (KPFA has, overall, tended to address real issues until Barack became president).
And Ruth pointed out the errors and apparently so did listeners and the next time the show was on the host was real snippy and rude about how people knew what he was saying.
What he was saying was that Woody was a xenophobe for writing "America the Beautiful" but Woody didn't write that song. All the host wanted was to serve up some White man and that's why he didn't care about the facts.
And what it really made me wonder was how smart was I? How many times had I nodded along with some Pacifica host, some trusted voice, and assumed they knew what they were talking about. How many times have I been wrong in that assumption? Probably too many times to count.
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"