Home > Article > Woody Guthrie: the authentic voice of America – Telegraph

Woody Guthrie: the authentic voice of America – Telegraph

 Dust bowl troubadour: Woody Guthrie with Margaret Johnson in October 1940 Photo: CBS via Getty imagesNew York City, February 23, 1940. In a dingy hotel room near Times Square sits Woody Guthrie. He is 27 years old and newly arrived in the city, having travelled from California, where he had spent the past three years singing and writing about the migrant workers who had fled to the Golden State, escaping the dust storms that had ravaged the Great Plains. As he crossed the country, Guthrie kept hearing Irving Berlin’s God Bless America. The song’s sappy lyrics sit uneasily with his own bitter experiences of how shabbily migrant workers had been treated in California. He begins tapping at his typewriter a song he initially calls God Blessed America, six verses set to a tune borrowed from the Carter Family. It will be his response to God Bless America. Once he has finished typing, Guthrie signs it, dates it and then ignores it for five years. When he does eventually revisit the song he gives it a different name: This Land is Your Land.

This Land is Your Land is now considered by many to be America’s alternative national anthem. Woody Guthrie has been mythologised as a dust bowl troubadour, a spiky-haired, boxcar-riding, hitchhiking king of the open road, clutching a guitar emblazoned with “This Machine Kills Fascists”. But Guthrie the man was more contradictory, calculating and complex than Woody the myth.

“Woody was not an icon, he was an iconoclast,” argues Billy Bragg. “I see him as the halfway point between Walt Whitman and Bob Dylan.” Will Kaufman, a biographer of the singer, writes that Guthrie “could be selfish, bitchy and snide… he climbed on the backs of women, using them and deserting them, pregnant or otherwise… he neglected his first wife and their children [and] he could be violent.” Far from being an uneducated hick, Guthrie was a bibliophile who admired the mystical poetry of Kahlil Gibran. A Stalin-supporting communist, he was also someone who wrote more children’s ditties than protest songs. So, today, 100 years since his birth, you might well ask: how did Guthrie become, as another biographer, Joe Klein, put it, “the patron saint of American rebelliousness”?

via Woody Guthrie: the authentic voice of America – Telegraph.

Strange Random Woody Guthrie Quote:

“Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.”


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