Nice piece from Randy Lewis on a new collection of Woody Guthrie material from the Smithsonian, released on his 100th birthday (today). Makes a strong argument that Woody's radicalism began in L.A., where he wrote one of his first and greatest folk songs ("Deportee").
Also includes a wonderful quote from John Steinbeck, who in a letter to Guthrie gives him hell for his song "Tom Joad," based on Steinbeck's novel "The Grapes of Wrath." Steinbeck wrote:
"You little bastard, how could you say in a few verses what it took me an entire novel to say?"
Steinbeck more formerly penned a tribute to Guthrie:
“Woody is just Woody,” Steinbeck once wrote. “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.”
To which I would say yes, absolutely, but add that among Woody's great honesties was an honesty about sex, and sex in nature. This is a surprisingly big part of his raw, blunt memoir, Bound for Glory, and µåny of his songs. For instance, "Remember the Mountain Bed,"
Do you still sing of the mountain bed we made of limbs and leaves:
Do you still sigh there near the sky where the holly berry bleeds:
You laughed as I covered you over with leaves, face, breast, hips and thighs.
You smiled when I said the leaves were just the color of your eyes.
Rosin smells and turpentine smells from eucalyptus and pine
Bitter tastes of twigs we chewed where tangled woodvines twine
Trees held us in on all four sides so thick we could not see
I could not see any wrong in you, and you saw none in me.
Your arm was brown against the ground, your cheeks part of the sky.
As your fingers played with grassy moss, and limber you did lie:
Your stomach moved beneath your shirt and your knees were in the air
Your feet played games with mountain roots, as you lay thinking there…
But that's just the start…from The Mermaid Avenue, Vol II collection.
Happy birthday, Woody.