Monday, July 14, 2008

so long it's been good to know you

I've sung this song, but I'll sing it again,
Of the people I've met and the places I've seen.
Of some of the troubles that bothered my mind
And a lot of good people that I've left behind, saying:

So long, it's been good to know yuh;
So long, it's been good to know yuh;
So long, it's been good to know yuh.
What a long time since I've been home,
And I've gotta be driftin' along.

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), singer-songwriter and american troubadour

yesterday I spent the day at the 33rd annual music in the valley festival at hale farm and village, I couldn't have dreamed up a better way to commemorate the late great woody guthrie. coincidentally, the first song encountered as we started walking the idyllic grounds of hale farm was woody's union maid.

woodrow wilson (woody) guthrie was born on 14 july 1912 in okemah, oklahoma. woody was a prolific songwriter, in his songs he set out to capture what he saw was happening in the world around him and worked to use music in order to promote social justice for all people. perhaps woody's most famous song is 'this land is your land' - woody wrote this song in 1940 as a response to the ubiquitous 'god bless america' which he believed was complacent and unrealistic. in 'this land is your land' woody protested class inequality in the final verses.
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?

As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
And on the sign there, It said "no trespassing." [In another version, the sign reads "Private Property"]
But on the other side, it didn't say nothing!
That side was made for you and me.

unfortunately, the final verses of this song are often skipped - how many of you remember singing these lyrics when you were a kid in school? there's a lot of great information about woody, his songs and his life, including two excellent biographies - joe klein's woody guthrie: a life (1999) and mark allan jackson's prophet singer: the voice and vision of woody guthrie (2007). however, if you are disinclined to pick up one of these tomes, just visit the official woody guthrie website. woody was inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 1988 for his ability to transform the folk ballad into a vehicle for social change and paved the road for scores of other musicians, including pete seeger, bob dylan, joan baez, bruce springsteen, billy bragg, and ani difranco, to name just a few.

recording from the library of congress collection, the song (3:38) is accompanied by an amazing selection of archival photographs of woody and images showing what conditions were like for many folks in the 1930s. woody's songs were collected for the library of congress by alan lomax with the assistance of pete seeger.


photo: dancing to 'union maid' at the music in the valley festival, bath, ohio. 13 july 2008

9 comments:

d. chedwick said...

We sand "This Land is Your Land: in grade school (leaving out the controversial verses. My dad sang those verses to me later, and this lead to a conversation on human rights and equality. I can't think of Woody Guthrie without thinking of my dad, who was very into his music.

d. chedwick said...

sang not sand--and I did porrf read this !

tut-tut said...

There is a children's tape that Arlo did of his dad's music, blending in old recordings of Woody with new ones of himself. L used to enjoy listening to it in the car. Perhaps you can get a copy at the library?

Coffee Messiah said...

Joady Guthhrie used to give lessons at the 5th String guitar shop in the avenues in SF and met him, as well as Tommy Smothers, who by the way, was trying out a classical guitar. I hung around for awhile listening, he is one creative guy!Mid to late 70s.

Yes, we were well aware of his songs in school as Ched mentioned.

Looks like those days are gone.

Nothing like a goos music festival! ; )

Anonymous said...

For You anthologizes hundreds of fans stories... it forms a genuinely interesting social history, even for those with only a passing interest in Springsteen. Adorned throughout by a luscious range of colour and black and white photos... this is a treat for the eyes and the heart, really capturing the sense of a global fan community. www.Foryoubruce.com

dennis said...

Dennis simply loved Bruce Springsteen singing folk songs. Seeger Sessions and so forth.

cbb said...

What a fine tribute - you really know how to celebrate others, Mouse - it's a true gift to us all!

R.L. Bourges said...

On Youtube, this is labelled as "one of the two surviving film clips of Woody Guthrie performing":

http://208.65.153.253/watch?v=G5NJKx8ObDY

mouse (aka kimy) said...

ched - your dad sounds like a really wonderful guy, it is such a tragedy that he died so young - but I hope you can sing with him always together in your heart and in memories.

tut - thanks for the head's up on the alro/woody album - I have weak spot for kids records & books. I have one called nursery days which is all woody (on the smithsonian folkways label). I look forward to finding the arlo one - sounds like it might be - "This Land Is Your Land: An All American Children's Folk Classic" with woody and arlo released in 1997

coffee - wow that is so neat that you were able to meet joady guthrie and tommy smothers! yes I love music festivals...when they are low key and in interesting venues

thanks anonymouse

dennis - xxx too bad bruce only seems to play in mega venues....I can't handle those types of shows any more!

cbb - aw thank you! you are very kind...

rlb - most excellent 55 seconds! thank you...it's amazing what one can find on youtube!