Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bastille Day and Woody Guthrie's Birthday

Today is Bastille Day.  If you're not ready to stop celebrating the human drive for freedom from tyranny, you're in luck!  Bastille Day is the French Fourth of July, and you could make a strong case that both revolutions should be celebrated in tandem.  The French began their revolution in the decade after the American colonies broke away, and for the next century, maybe 2, abusive leaders worried about the example set by these revolutions.

Today is also the birthday of Woody Guthrie, another player in the fight for freedom.  You may think you don't know his work, but you likely do.   Most schoolchildren learn his work early.  Let's take a minute and sing "This Land Is Your Land" together.

You likely never learned the most radical verses:

As I went walking, I saw a sign there,

And on the sign there, It said "no trespassing." [In another version, the sign reads "Private Property"]
But on the other side, it didn't say nothing!
That side was made for you and me.


In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

I love Woody Guthrie not just for his songs that argue for freedom and justice.  I also love his example of living an artistic life.

Woody Guthrie came of age in the Great Depression, which means he didn't have basic advantages like a stable home or an education.  He didn't always have food.

Yet he was able to persevere.  He didn't have musical training, yet he was able to learn what he needed to know.  He couldn't write music to go with his lyrics, so he used the music that was out there and available.  Perhaps that's why his songs feel so immediately familiar.

Guthrie famously said that any song that needed more than 2 guitar chords was showing off.  I love this approach to song writing.  Guthrie took what could have been a major weakness and turned it into a powerful strength.

We can do this too. 

Here's a Woody Guthrie quote to remind you of your purpose as an artist, of what art can do, of the power of two chords and the truth.

"I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.


I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built.

I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work."

2 comments:

Kathleen said...

Happy Birthday to you and Woody! "This Land is Your Land" was my favorite song in school! (I don't know all the verses, but I remember hearing some of the extensions at a concert. Glad to see some here!)

I've got to confess, though, that "Born to Lose" by Ted Daffan is also a new (to me) favorite old song of mine.

Kristin said...

I'm late to say thank you, but thanks for the birthday wishes and the music memories!