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?’ “

Published by clairebatesmusic

Conscious analysis and loving transparency illuminate tender, gutsy, bluesy folk when Claire plays and sings. Claire Bates gives from her heart songs for hard times.

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