Remembering Woody Guthrie on the 50th Anniversary of his passing
July 14, 1912 ~ October 3, 1967
October 3, 2017
A NOTE FROM NORA GUTHRIE...
On the 50th anniversary of my father’s passing I am remembering what a young man once said about Woody. “You can listen to Woody Guthrie songs and actually learn how to live.”
That young man was Bob Dylan. Not the now world famous Bob Dylan. Not the “greatest songwriter of his generation” Bob Dylan. Not the Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan. No. This was way before all that. This was the young man who came to our house in 1961 to find my father. This was the young man who visited him in the hospital and brought him cigarettes. And this young man learned and played all the songs my father wanted to hear– his own! And whether or not he even understood what he was saying, this young man blurted out words that have stayed with me all these years.
“You can listen to Woody Guthrie songs and actually learn how to live.”
I’ve been surrounded by my father’s songs my entire life. And today, I want to think about and remember how – specifically – how have I “learned how to live” from his songs? Most of them have messages – political, social, worldly, personal – ideas and ideals. Values. Do’s and don’ts. Warnings. Encouragements. Pleas. Confirmations. Affirmations. For the most part, even as a child, these are teachings that I take for granted without giving it a second thought.
Here’s just a few:
We belong to the family of man – We are against racial injustices – We are against social injustices – We are against greed – Fight fascism – We support and respect the workers in the world who built this world, and everyone has, or should have, a good job of work to do – Learn history – Children are to be respected, and adults could learn a lot from children – True love makes you want to be a better person – True love makes you want to jump up in the morning and do something good – Each person is unique and each individual has something wonderful to offer – Our religion is so big that no one is excluded from it, and no one can get out of it! – Learn as much as you can about the world – Give as much as you can to others. The list goes on…
Now, I’m not always true to these teachings but they are embedded in me as a kind of road map. They are things to reach for, one by one. Things to evolve towards. And because all of this is so deep inside me, when I disregard any of them I feel varying degrees of discomfort, shame, embarrassment, remorse, or… just terrible!
But when I see what’s happening in the world today, especially with people in powerful positions, it’s inconceivable that these people can sleep at night. That they have no apparent embarrassment, remorse, or shame. I can’t imagine what their goals are, what their motives are…what their problems are. Who were their parents, and what were the values that were embedded in their children’s hearts and minds?
Today, I’m just breathing in how grateful I am. In our house, all these teachings usually came in rhyme and verse. As they say, sometimes it’s just three chords and the truth; “This land was made for you and me.”
My father’s songs learned me how to live.
What about you? Did he learn you too? Somewhere down the road, or maybe even today if you have some time, it would do Woody a great honor if you might take a moment to consider Bob’s thought. Think about how/if Woody Guthrie songs helped you, in some way, learn how to live. We’d love to hear how.
Because, I think that’s what his legacy of songs is really about.
- Nora Guthrie
Photo by David Gahr