Woody Guthrie

I was grateful to Woody for keeping me company when I was ill a couple months ago. (I wasn’t hallucinating; I was reading his book.) There were so many great quotes! Here’s a sample:

Woody on writing songs for a time: “If you think of something new to say, if a cyclone comes, or a flood wrecks the country, or a bus load of school children freeze to death along the road, if a big ship goes down, and an airplane falls in your neighborhood, an outlaw shoots it out with the deputies, or the working people go out to win a war, yes, you’ll find a train load of things you can set down and make up a song about. You’ll hear people singing your words around over the country, and you’ll sing their songs everywhere you travel or everywhere you live; and these are the only kind of songs my head or my memory or my guitar has got any room for.”

Woody on performance style: [while watching young performers play songs to enliven a camp full of homeless people, where he and they also lived] “It was so clear and honest sounding, no Hollywood put-on, no fake wiggling. It was better to me than the loud squalling and bawling you’ve got to do to make yourself heard in the old mobbed saloons. And, instead of getting you all riled up mentally, morally, and sexually—no, it done something a lot better, something that’s harder to do, something that you need ten times more. It cleared your head up, that’s what it done, caused you to fall back and let your draggy bones rest and your muscles go limber like a cat’s.”

Spiritual life & worldly justice: “All of this talking about what’s up in the sky, or down in hell, for that matter, isn’t half as important as what’s right here, right now, right in front of your eyes. Things are tough. Folks broke. Kids hungry. Sick. Everything. And people has just got to have more faith in one another, believe in each other. There’s a spirit of some kind we’ve all got. That’s got to draw us all together.”

Standing up to injustice: [a white hobo explains to Woody how he stood up to another white hobo against racism] ” ‘Ain’t nothing tough about me, sort of—but I don’t make a practice of bein’ afraid of you nor anybody else.’ He settled his self a little more solid on his feet.”

On racism: [Woody & another white hobo’s discussion.] ” ‘Skin trouble. That’s a dam good name for it.’ I walked along beside him. / ‘Hard to cure after it gets started, too,. I was born and raised in a country that’s got all kinds of diseases, and this skin trouble is the worst one of the lot,’ he told me. . . . ‘I had hell with some of my folks about things like that. But, seems like, little at a time, I’d sort of convince them, you know; lots of folks I never could convince. They’re kinda like the old bellyache fellow, they cause a lot of trouble to a hundred people, and then to a thousand people, all on account of just some silly, crazy notion. Like you can help what color you are. Goddamit all.’ ”

On giving what you’ve got to the world: [a conversation Woody had with his friend. Woody begins] ” ‘Will, you know me. You know dam[sic] good an’ well I’d play fer my beans an’ cornbread, an’ drink branch water, ‘er anything else ta play an’ sing fer folks that likes it, folks that knows it, an’ lives what I’m a singin’ bout. . . . They [power players in the entertainment industry] try ta tell me if I wanta eat an’ stay alive, I gotta sing their dam[sic] old phony junk!’ / ‘You’d just naturally explode up in that high society, wouldn’t you? But, money’s what it takes, Woody.’ / ‘. . . Mebbe I jest ain’t got brains ‘nuf in my head ta see that. But after alla th’ hard luck I had, Will, I seen money come, an’ seen money go, ever since I was jest a kid, an’ I never thought ’bout nuthin’ else, ‘sides jest passin’ out my songs.’ / ‘Takes money, boy. You want to make any kind of a name f’r yourself, well, takes all kinds of money. An’ if you want to donate to poor folks all over th’ country, that takes money.’ / ‘Cain’t I just sorta donate my own self, sort of?’ “

“Soap for Hope” Project

I’m grateful to be working on an international project. Some of you may know my connections to refugee communities in Uganda run back to 2017, when I interned with a refugee-led organization using technology to give people who are refugees avenues to voice their concerns, access information, and learn new skills.

Today I’m back at it, partnering with Uganda-based Dream Production and Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Friends of the Third World (a 501[c][3] organization), to get kits of hygiene supplies relevant to COVID-19 (washable masks, durable gloves, packs of soap, water cans) to Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement, an urban refugee settlement in central Uganda, into the hands of 100 especially vulnerable refugee households. You can read more details of our project below, and/or contribute here.

Thanks to my mom, the artist Katherine Bates, for contributing this artwork

The Story: In ordinary times, Dream Production (led by refugee youth in Kiryandongo) focuses attention on helping refugee youth strengthen their artistic talents (filmmaking, dance, songwriting, poetry, and more) and apply these talents to peacebuilding and development goals.

During COVID-19, this organization’s focus has adapted to meet the times. Given Wilson, our partner with Dream Production, told me that refugee families in his camp were feeling traumatized because of an influx of information about how to protect themselves from COVID-19, but a lack of ability to access hygiene supplies that would help families keep themselves safe and healthy. Through a partnership between Dream Production, Friends of the Third World, and Claire Bates Music, we’re stretching to help secure hygiene supplies for 100 households.

How You Can Help:

  • If you can donate: Please do so at our GoFundMe page. For these basic items, every little bit helps (mask $3, durable gloves $2, pack of soap $5, etc.) toward our goal!
  • If you are an artist, singer, writer, or performer: Do you have a piece of expression about REFUGEES or HOPE or SOAP? Please consider sharing your piece about that topic online and further spreading the word about this project. You can also cover or pass along my song on this topic, point people toward our GoFundMe page, and use the logo on this page. I’d love to hear about it! (You can email me here.)

Thanks so much! Everything helps!

Claire

House Concert Update

I love sharing music through house concerts. Each event is as unique as its attendees, its hosts, and the visions we create together! An especially fun one took place in Fort Wayne, IN, two weeks ago. Families have allowed me to post videos and pictures here. Thank you to Whitney and Jared for being willing to host!

See more photos and videos of this concert . . .

Intentional concerts help strengthen the fabric of community we need, and I’m doing them across the country gradually as I go. Write me to book one. What strengthens community for you these days?

Will Work for Peace: I Interviewed on Nonviolent Communication

Thanks to Elizabeth MacMillan for the photo used for this interview.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC)’s persistence—in trusting people’s desire and creativity in meeting their own human needs and illuminating the potential for compassionate collaboration—roots my musical efforts. This week I was interviewed about NVC on my friend’s Quaker radio station. I welcome you to listen to the episode, comment on it, and share it with others. https://northernspiritradio.org/episode/primer-nonviolent-communication. Also, I’d be happy to help you learn about Nonviolent Communication – please read these details.

Inside a House Concert

House concerts can be interactive! Click this link for Instagram video peeks inside a house concert . . .

Recent house concert participants

I’m traveling the U.S. and booking house concerts as I go. Please let me know if you would be interested in hosting one where you live. And visit my events page to attend one already scheduled.

I Took Amtrak

Between Michigan and North Carolina: 25 hours down and 36 back. During an 11-hour layover in Greensboro, NC, I recorded the below song.

First, let me explain the context:

  • Train travel is more carbon-efficient than plane or automobile travel, which I’ve known for awhile. (Here are online writings – 1, 2 – capturing trains’ superiority for delivering freight.)
  • After a year of considering this, I finally got my life to a point where I could spare time to travel by train.

A little about the experience:

  • Pros: Nearly everyone was extremely kind and friendly. I felt like I was traveling not among strangers; I made new friends. The scenery was beautiful. The bathrooms were clean. My conscience felt clean in line with my own ethics. I found the rhythm of the rails soothing, which almost everybody says.
  • Cons: The train ride back took 36 hours. A few days later, I was still tired from that. The wifi was intermittently available.

During my 11-hour layover in Greensboro, NC – at 4:00 in the morning, in fact – I recorded this song to express the need for increasingly sustainable, high-quality means of transportation, and other aspects of sustainability. Hear, hear! to a Green New Deal!

Me singing about climate change and the need for a Green New Deal

The Water Tour

Dates: November 2019 – TBD

Places: Specific events listed here. Roughly: Michigan & Indiana in late 2019, North Carolina & Florida in early 2020, a brief trip back to Northern Michigan in late March, and hopefully out west after that, including to California. Shows to include house concerts, small venue gigs, song circles, and open mics. If you are interested in hosting a show, please write me.

Why Water:

As water takes the shape of a container, I have been striving to allow this trip’s plans to unfold to fill the space.

I love these quotes about water from a spiritual book called the Tao Te Ching:

“Nothing in this world / is as soft and yielding as water / Yet for attacking the hard and strong / none can triumph so easily / It is weak, yet none can equal it / It is soft, yet none can damage it / It is yielding, yet none can wear it away / . . . the soft overcomes the hard / and the yielding triumphs over the rigid” (Lao Tzu, trans. Jonathon Star, 2003, v. 78, p. 91)

“The most yielding thing in the world / will overcome the most rigid” (Ibid, v. 43, p. 56)

“The best way to live / is to be like water / For water benefits all things / and goes against none of them / It provides for all people / and even cleanses those places a man is loath to go / In this way it is just like Tao” (Ibid, v. 8, p. 21)

C

The Kurdish Crisis

Dear friends,

I’m very sad about the recently unfolding Kurdish situation. I’ve heard reports of families with children being killed. I’ve heard reports about thousands of people identified with ISIS who’ve been detained by Kurdish people, whose oversight may be uncertain. I’ve heard many concerning likelihoods. My friend, Travis Moe, explains a critical heartbreaking element of what is unfolding, which I’ve reposted on my personal Facebook page. I ache today with this situation.

I wish I had art to contribute to the situation somehow but I don’t have much. Based on my personal experience interning and working with military veterans and refugees I feel certain that each person impacted by the delicate and harsh balances we call military conflicts will never be the same. Here’s one piece I’ve shared recently: this song expresses sadness over lack of peace and the lack of a trajectory toward care in the world. If you have ideas about how to be of service as we experience this hurt and pain please do share.

C

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