Friday, July 14, 2017

Of Bastille Day and Birthdays

Today we have another chance to celebrate the human thirst for liberty and to ponder who gets to enjoy equality and who does not.  It's Bastille Day, the French equivalent (sort of ) of our Independence Day. I see this historical event as one of many that launched us on the road to equality. It's an uneven success to be sure. More of us in the first world enjoy more liberty than those in developing nations. But that thirst for freedom and equality found some expression in the French Revolution, and I could argue that much liberation theology has some rootedness in that soil (yes, it would be a problematic argument, I know).

Today is also my birthday.  Even though it's a Friday, we'll probably enjoy this Friday the way we enjoy most Fridays:  burgers and wine and a quiet evening at home.  I will stop at Hollywood Vine in downtown Hollywood to get a better quality of wine than we usually drink on Fridays, but that will likely be my main culinary celebration.

I will go to work because work is not onerous.  Why burn a vacation day for a birthday?  I spent many a lonely birthday as a child or teen because my birthday was in the summer and everyone was on vacation elsewhere.

We'll have a relatively quiet birthday week-end.  My spouse began his second summer session classes behind, so we're trying not to schedule too much.  I will go to my quilt group tomorrow, which will be a treat.  We may grill flank steak, but not because it's my birthday week-end but because it was on sale.

I will also listen to the music of Woody Guthrie because it's his birthday too.  I've long been fascinated by Woody Guthrie, probably ever since childhood, when I realized we shared a birthday. When I went to elementary school in the 1970's, we sang "This Land Is Your Land" far more than we sang "God Bless America." In fact, Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land" in direct response to "God Bless America." "This Land Is Your Land" is a much better song, but of course, I'm biased.

As elementary school children, we didn't sing the most radical verse:

"As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!"
Those verses are fairly radical, the idea that the land belongs to us all. I love it.

I find Guthrie fascinating as an artist. Here's a singer-songwriter who doesn't know music theory, who left behind a treasure trove of lyrics but no music written on musical staffs or chords--because he didn't know how to do it. For many of the songs that he wrote, he simply used melodies that already existed.

I think of Woody Guthrie as one of those artists who only needed 3 chords and the truth--but in fact, he said that anyone who used more than two chords is showing off. In my later years, I've wondered if he developed this mantra because he couldn't handle more than 2 chords.

I love this vision I have of Guthrie as an artist who didn't let his lack of knowledge hold him back. I love how he turned the deficits that might have held a lesser artist back into strengths. I love that he's created a whole body of work, but his most famous song is still sung by schoolchildren everywhere, and how subversive is that?

No comments: