Woody Guthrie’s birthday — July 14 — has turn into an annual second for remembering and celebrating his legendary life and legacy. In his native Oklahoma yearly there’s an enormous Woody Birthday music pageant; many smaller Woody songfests appear recurrently to convene on what was once Bastille Day.
I actually have been doing Woody birthday radio bashes for many of the 40 years my KCSB present “Tradition of Protest” has been on the air. This yr, fellow KCSB programmer, musician, and ethnomusicologist Hunter Gettelfinger, invited me to speak about Woody at a celebration he was organizing down at Jim Connally’s Piano Kitchen. It was for me a well timed invitation, as a result of I’ve been considering so much in regards to the which means of Woody within the time of Trump.
Woody was the voice of these he referred to as “dustbowl refugees” — the tons of of hundreds compelled out of their farms and houses by the fierce mud storms that swept Oklahoma and Texas, the place Woody joined the plenty of migrants headed for California. He sang within the voice of rambling staff searching for a house.
On the time of the migration, within the late ’30s, he actually shared their financial battle. However Woody was born right into a decidedly propertied household. Charley Guthrie, his father, was an actual property speculator, an oil developer, under-sheriff of Okemah. He was an energetic conservative Democrat, who devoted a lot power to opposing the rising socialist motion. Woody was born a number of days after Woodrow Wilson gained the Democratic nomination for president — which prompted Charley to call the brand new child Woodrow Wilson. That fall, Gene Debs received 16 p.c of the Oklahoma vote working towards Wilson.
The yr earlier than Woody’s beginning, Okemah was the location of a horrific lynching. L.D. Nelson, an African-American farmer, had gotten right into a gunfight with an area deputy sheriff. He and his mom had been arrested for the homicide of the cop, they had been take from jail by a mob of 40 (presumably together with Charley Guthrie), and each had been hung from the city bridge. Image postcards of this occasion can nonetheless be discovered.
Donald Trump was elected by a minority of the favored vote, however he did win a majority of white voters. I contemplated this in 2016, coming to understand that there are tens of millions of People with ancestors who might need been among the many smiling individuals within the lynching postcards — ancestors who had a component within the enforcement of white supremacy. Trump’s personal father was so much like Charley Guthrie.
Not like Donald, Woody totally rejected his father’s methods. As a substitute he intentionally spent his transient creative life giving voice and inspiration to the opposite facet. His life story because the renegade troubadour, who inscribed on his guitar THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS, who rudely refused to obey segregationist customized, who wrote tons of of songs telling the tales of labor martyrs and heroes, of Harriet Tubman and Fairly Boy Floyd, and who misplaced radio community contracts as a result of he wouldn’t sing commercials allows us to see that Trumpism needn’t outline the path for heartland America. Hearken to Woody. He’s providing antidotes to despair, even when his songs inform us of grim historical past.