Friday, July 13, 2012

Woody Guthrie Centennial

Woody Guthrie is 100. His official biography, by Joe Klein, is entitled Woody Guthrie, A Life.  But  about 30 years ago, when I was part of a production on Woody's life *  one of his old friends from the 1930s, Bob Dewitt,, casually mentioned that the book should be called, Woody Guthrie, What a Life!
Enough said for now.
 Woody is an American treasure. Haunted by the threat of developing Huntington's disease, he wrote an autobiography at 29. His book Bound for Glory rivals Huckleberry Finn in many ways. Woody wrote over a thousand songs. Some of them are just now coming to light and life. I was fortunate to have befriended two men who knew him in his prime. When Ed Robbin first put Woody on L.A. radio station KFVD, he asked him, "Woody, who writes these songs." '"I do," he said. Ed then asked, "How many do you have?" "Oh I got two notebooks full," Woody said. "I had three, but I lost one notebook on the road coming out to California." Gives one pause.
This morning I decided to celebrate Woody's life by doing something that he apparently did.  People who knew Woody all say he's often spend the evening playing in bars and coffeehouses for tips and anything else that might come his way: a place to spend the night, a meal, a car, a bed, a get the idea.  But what most folks don't know is that it wasn't uncommon for Woody to give his "earnings" to the first needy person he saw.
In that spirit, I decided to make some modest donations to street musicians.  At the downtown Farmer's Market this morning I found a couple of duos and then an old-timer playing Hank Williams tunes on a shiny National steel-bodied guitar.  Two young women from Atlanta caught my ear and after one mentioned they slept in their car last night, I thought, Woody would certainly relate to that.  As he used to say, "Take it easy, but take it."

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