Archive for July, 2011

Freethought San Marcos: Remembering Woody Guthrie in the age of Obama

Submitted by on Thursday, 21 July 2011

Freethought San Marcos: A column

Woody Guthrie, the song writer, musician, social philosopher, and populist extraordinaire, would have turned 99 this past week (July 14) had he lived.  He died of Huntington’s disease in 1967.  He wrote perhaps thousands of songs, some of which continued to be sung after his death by popular performers, including Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Bob Paxton, his son Arlo Guthrie, and many others.

Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma, travelled to California with migrant workers during the dust bowl and then all over the country.  For a while in California, he hosted a live radio program that was very popular for a few years, but Woody did not take kindly to being told what to do or whom to associate with or what he could say, so that job ended.  In 1941, he was hired by the Department of the Interior to write songs about the Columbia River and the dams being built there in connection with a documentary project.  Producing electricity from the flowing waters of the Columbia caught his imagination.

When he saw a news item in the newspaper that offended his sense of social justice, he was inclined to write a song about it.  That’s how “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos” came to be written.  A group of Mexican migrant workers were killed as they were sent back to Mexico after harvesting crops in the western US.  He lamented how these people were used to put food on the tables of Americans and their deaths weren’t given a second thought.  Their names weren’t even reported in the news articles.  “All they called them were just deportees.”

You don’t have to agree with everything Woody wrote to appreciate his contribution to American culture.  After all, no two people agree on everything, but the strength of his feeling for the American people cannot be denied.  That feeling is best found, perhaps, in what has become an anthem of populism–”This Land is Your Land.”

words and music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land,
From California, to the New York Island,
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway.
I saw below me that golden valley,
This land was made for you and me.


I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps,
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts,
And all around me a voice was sounding,
This land was made for you and me.


The sun came shining as I was strolling,
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling.
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting,
This land was made for you and me.


As I went walking,  I saw a sign there,
And on that sign, it said “Private Property.”
But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing,
Now that side was made for you and me!


In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the steeple,
By the relief office,  I saw my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there wondering,
If this land was made for you and me.

Chorus (2x)

In 2008, from everywhere in the country, the spirits of populists and caring people, and those who spent their lives working for social and economic justice for all were lifted by the election of Barack Obama as President.  At a special pre-inaugural gathering, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, and others joined in singing all those verses to Woody’s anthem.  That’s how high expectations were for Obama among those who favor a more compassionate world.

Such enthusiasm does not exist today.  Obama has thrown in with the wealthy, the corporatists, the bankers, the exploiters, the war profiteers, and he seems to have forgotten the millions of average Americans who are without jobs, without the money to pay their mortgages, without hope for a better future.

I know that Obama faces great opposition, assuming that he cares about Woody’s people, but that is no excuse for not using every ounce of his energy and influence for average Americans, rather than the elite.  If this land was made for us all, it seems that we should have a government at least as good as its people.  I’ve come to wish that at least we had a president that good as well.

© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos


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Help Musicians in Need and Win a Pete Seeger Signed Banjo






Help Musicians in Need and Win a Pete Seeger Signed Banjo by Mike Hall

Local 1000, aka the Traveling Musicians Union/AFM, is holding a unique musical raffle to raise funds for musicians in need and to boost organizing efforts. Legendary activist, agitator and American folk music icon Pete Seeger autographed one of his signature long-necked banjos–and for just $20 a ticket, or six tickets for $100, you can have chance to win.

The odds aren’t too bad either because Local 1000 will sell only 600 tickets. (Click here to purchase.)

All the proceeds will benefit Local 1000’s Emergency Relief Fund, which provides assistance to musicians who fall onto hard times due to illness, natural disaster and economic hardship. It will also help fund the local’s organizing efforts to bring union benefits (such as health care and pensions) to working musicians throughout the acoustic music world.

Local 1000 says that the drawing for the Deering Banjo Co.’s Pete Seeger long neck Vega banjo will take place after all 600 tickets are sold and before the end of the year. Check their website for raffle updates.

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New Woody Guthrie Tribute Disc Features Pete Seeger, Lou Reed, Jackson Browne, Ani DiFranco

In the same vein as Wilco and Billy Bragg’s Mermaid Avenue albums, bassist Rob Wasserman will release Note Of Hope on September 27 via 429 Records, an album of collaborations made up of songs inspired by unpublished Woody Guthrie material.

Wasserman and Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter, recruited over a dozen A-list artists including Pete Seeger, Jackson Browne, Lou Reed and even face-melter-turned-folk-troubadour Tom Morello.

Nora Guthrie originally conceived the idea for the project when she found several works her dad wrote while he was living in New York City between 1942 and 1954. Despite the age of the lyrics, Wasserman is still excited about the project.

“The words Nora found are timeless and more relevant than ever – it seems like Woody could see the future,” Wasserman noted.

The renowned bassist immediately came to mind when Nora started to think of artists who could put music to the words.

“I always felt that Rob Wasserman’s bass is one of the great companions to all words,” Nora recalled. “Each of the artists we invited to collaborate were masterful writers in their own right, with a unique and distinctive voice that stands apart from all others”

Wasserman is best known for his trilogy of Grammy-winning albums aptly titled Solo, Duets, and Trios, in which he worked with artists such as Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Jerry Garcia and Les Claypool. Wasserman also founded the band RatDog in 1995 with longtime friend and collaborator Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead.

The group of genre-defying collaborators also includes Ani DiFranco, Nellie McKay, Kurt Elling, Michael Franti, Van Dyke Parks, Madeleine Peyroux, Studs Terkel, Tony Trischka, and Chris Whitley.

The release of Note Of Hope will be the first in a series of events that will culminate in the centennial celebration of Woody Guthrie’s birthday on July 14, 2012, so keep an eye out for more Woody Guthrie related news to come in the future!

Note Of Hope Track Listing:

1.       The  Note of Hope – Van Dyke Parks
2.       Wild  Card in the Hole – Madeleine Peyroux
3.       Ease  My Revolutionary Mind – Tom Morello
4.       The  Debt I Owe – Lou Reed
5.       Union  Love Juice – Michael Franti
6.       Peace  Pin Boogie – Kurt Elling
7.       Voice  – Ani Di Franco
8.       I  Heard A Man Talking – Studs Terkel
9.       Old  Folks – Nellie McKay
10.   On  The High Lonesome – Chris Whitley
11.   There’s  a Feeling in the Music – Pete Seeger & Tony  Trischka
12.   You  Know the Night – Jackson Browne

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