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Posts Tagged ‘Woody Guthrie’

This new small painting is titled and never looked back… and is headed to the annual Little Gems show at the West End Gallery. It’s a piece that reminds me of the Depression era and the Dust Bowl refugees who forced from their homes by a hostile environment and a pitiless economy, leaving all they ever knew behind. I can only imagine the feelings of loss, the anxiety, the confusion and the anger that must have been constantly running through these people’s minds.

To have to leave one’s home– and never look back.

I know this is hardly a happy subject to face on a Sunday morning but I worry that we will someday soon face the same sort of situation. It has happened in one instance recently, if you consider the many people of Puerto Rico who have lost everything in the past year and how they have been forced to leave their island home. They are the current modern day Okies.

You may say this an unfounded worry, given the strength of our economy. And you’re probably right, at least for the short term.  But with the deregulation taking place in the financial sector, the shredding of the social safety net and unparalleled wealth inequality– a mere 6 people have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the global population, 3.7 billion people– we are setting the stage for a huge economic crash when the economy eventually sputters, as it will given its cyclical nature.

I know that I sound like a bummer filled with gloom and doom. I don’t mean it that way. I am just sending out a cautionary note that if we continue to ignore the lessons of the past, we will relive them. Not necessarily in the same way. We may not be Okies jammed into old trucks, heading out west to pick fruit. I don’t have the imagination to think what our lives might be in the next critical situation that comes our way. But I do know that it won’t be good unless we begin working now to avert the worst of it.

Okay, enough. Today’s Sunday morning music is a classic Dust Bowl era song from Woody Guthrie that was in my mind when I was finishing up this painting. It’s title is I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore.

In the 1950’s, Guthrie lived in public housing in Brooklyn that was built with public funds by a NY developer by the name of Fred Trump – yeah, that guy’s father. Guthrie noticed the fact that people of color were not allowed in that development and later wrote new verses for this song that called out the racism of Old Man Trump, as he called him. This discrimination throughout Trump’s network of developments persisted for nearly 25 years until a Civil Rights lawsuit was brought by the Federal authorities and was settled in the late 70’s. Here’s a link to an article outlining more of the details.

Like I said, we relive the past.

Give a listen and have a good Sunday.

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I only have time enough this morning to throw this song out for this week’s Sunday morning music. The song is At My Window Sad and Lonely with lyrics by Woody Guthrie. The band Wilco and singer Billy Bragg put music to these lyrics along with a number of other Guthrie songs in the Mermaid Avenue albums. The version below is an acoustic version from Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. Nice stuff.

The image to the right is from my Outlaws series from back in 2006. This piece is called Followed. It was chosen because I think this person might be sad and lonely.

Give a listen and enjoy your Sunday…

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Woody Guthrie -This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie -This Machine Kills Fascists

Since we’re in the midst of the Fourth of July weekend, I thought this Sunday’s musical selection should be something with a definite American flavor.   The song is This Land Is Your Land from the great Woody Guthrie.

You are no doubt familiar with this song, probably thinking of it as a cheery, upbeat song about the beauty and breadth of our democracy, sung often by smiling church and school choruses.  It’s become a kind of populist national anthem which is sort of ironic given its beginnings and the words of the song.  You see, there are verses that are seldom sung by the choruses and flag waving nationalists, verses that very much change the tone and meaning of the song.

Guthrie wrote the song in the late 1930’s in response to the immense popularity at that time of  the Kate Smith version of God Bless America, written by Irving Berlin.  Guthrie saw the world coming apart due to the nationalistic extremism that had spread through Europe, producing fascist leaders such as Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain.

The original intro to God Bless America had the lines: While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free / Let us all be grateful that we’re far from there, / As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.  That phrase that we’re far from there was later changed to for a land so fair.  Guthrie saw it as a call to an isolated form of nationalism, one that cast a blind eye to the perils lurking abroad that were beginning to spread here as well as our own problems at home.  Problems like poverty and inequality.

Guthrie wanted to address these problems in his retort to Berlin’s song.  At first, Guthrie sarcastically called his song God Blessed America For Me before naming it This Land Is Your Land.

Below are the two verses in the original version of This Land Is Your Land that are always omitted from those cheery civic versions speak to the ills of this country as Guthrie saw them, most noticeably  the greed which led to the great chasm of inequality between the wealthy and the poor of this land.  He questioned how a land with so much wealth and beauty, one based on the equality of man, could tolerate the extreme poverty and injustice he saw in his travels across this land.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
by the relief office I saw my people.
As they stood hungry,
I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.

It’s an interesting song that speaks to this crazy time in the world as blind nationalism rises abroad and here in the USA.  Give a listen to this wonderful version of the song from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and pay special attention to the words.  Have a great Sunday and a great 4th.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQ78uDio_ao

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GC Myers-The Incantation 1994I was going through some old images the other day and for some reason I always settle on this image shown here, an old piece from my earliest painting efforts over twenty years back.  I call it The Incantation.  At that moment a news station was on the TV, with its incessant and seemingly never-ending  coverage of the presidential primaries.

So much is said yet there seems to be so little substance in it that it turns into just words uttered.

Nonsense or an incantation, of sorts.

In my mind, the connection was made between this image and the song below, Hoodoo Voodoo from Billy Bragg and Wilco, based on unpublished lyrics from Woody Guthrie.  Guthrie had  several songs with nonsensical lyrics, often written for his children. I like this version– it spans that gap nicely between nonsense and incantation.

Actually, I think Sarah Palin quoted many parts of this song verbatim during some of her speeches, most notably her recent ones while stumping for Donald Trump. As I said: nonsense and incantation.

Give a listen and read along.  Hopefully the next time you’re held under a spell cast by the talking heads on one of the news networks, this song will start playing in your mind.  Nonsense is the only defense against their incantations.

Hoodoo voodoo, seven twenty one two
Haystacka hostacka, ABC
High poker, low joker, ninety-nine-a-zero
Sidewalk, streetcar, dance a goofy dance

Blackbirdy, bluejay, one, two, three, four
Trash sack, jump back, EFG
Biggy hat, little hat, fatty man, skinny man
Grasshopper greensnake, hold my hand

Hoodoo voodoo, chooka-chooky-choo-choo
True blue, how true, kissle me now

Momma cat, Tommy cat, diapers on my clothes line
Two, four, six, eight, I run and hide
Pretty girl, pretty boy, pony on a tin can
I’ll be yours, you’ll be mine

Hoodoo voodoo, chooka-chooky-choo-choo
True blue, how true, kissle me now

Jinga jangler, tinga lingle, picture on a bricky wall
Hot and scamper, foamy lather, huggle me close
Hot breeze, old cheese, slicky slacky fishy tails
Brush my hair, kissle me some more

Hoodoo voodoo, chooka chooky choo choo
True blue, how true, kissle me now

Hoodoo voodoo, chooka chooky choo choo
True blue, how true, kissle me now
Kissle me now

Brush my hair
And kissle me some more

Kissle me some more
Kissle me some more

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hundertwasser_land-of-men-birds-shipsThe painting above is titled Paradise-The Land of Men, Birds and Ships.  It’s actually a mural that was painted on a building outside of Paris in 1950 by artists Friedensreich Hundertwasser and  René Brõ.  It was saved from demolition in 1964 although I have no idea where or in what condition it now stands.  I’ve featured Hundertwasser’s work, with it’s rich colors and organic shapes, here on the blog a few times in the past.  I like his work,  I like this and thought it fit well with the song I’ve chosen for today’s Sunday Morning Music.

That song is Ships and Birds from one of my favorite albums, Wilco and Billy Bragg‘s 1998 Mermaid Avenue.  It’s a collection of old unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics set to new music composed by Wilco and others.  This track features Natalie Merchant singing the lead and is just a lovely, simple  song.  A nice way to kick off any Sunday morning.

Have a great Sunday…

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oklahoma-mapA lot of us probably don’t think too much about Oklahoma and when we do, it’s probably as a result of the latest blow dealt to it by Mother Nature.  This past week’s tornado devastation in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore is the latest such natural disaster to bring our eyes back to Oklahoma, near the very center of our country.  As we do whenever a disaster anywhere occurs, we as a nation come together and give the full benefit of our gathered strength in aid and support.  We are doing this now for the folks in Moore, Oklaoma and if you can, donate a bit to the Red Cross or one of the other relief organizations that will be helping them back on their feet.

Oklahoma has always had a special appeal in the American psyche .   It lives in our minds with Curly riding the plains in that idealized burgeoning new frontier in the musical from Rodgers and Hammerstein.  John Steinbeck set  his fictional Everyman Tom Joad, the plain-spoken hero and seeker of fairness from The Grapes of Wrath,  in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma.  He remains oone of my heroes and I  think of Tom Joad as the epitomized conscience of America.

I have a lot of other heroes from Oklahoma.  Growing up, whenever I heard mention of that state I immediately thought of Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench, both OK natives.   And you can’t forget that perhaps the greatest athlete of his time, Jim Thorpe, was also from OK.   Or hero astronaut Gordon Cooper.  Oklahoma also gave us the sharp stick of humor that Will Rogers wielded as the greatest observer of  our country in his time and another observer in the form of Woody Guthrie whose songs are filled with the American soul.  His This Land Is Your Land is a tribute to our unity as a nation.

Even in these divided  partisan times, Oklahoma sits near the heart of this country, both geographically and figuratively.  Like I said, give them a hand make it OK again for them.  Here is a take  from one of my favorites , the Kinks,  on the American vision of Oklahoma as seen through British eyes.

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I mentioned Woody Guthrie in yesterday’s post and it reminded me of a musical release that is coming out in the next month.  It is the release of Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions from Billy Bragg and Wilco, which incorporates the remastered first two volumes from the original 1998 release with a new volume of 17 songs. 

 These sessions were the result of the Guthrie family asking singer/activist Billy Bragg along with Wilco to have a go at interpreting some of the many songs left after his death in 1967.  Guthrie didn’t read music so his unrecorded songs’ melodies were stored only in his memory, leaving only the lyrics.  But the lyrics were terrific and provided Bragg and Wilco plenty of inspiration to produce a memorable set of music.  I have used several songs here over the years and often find myself switching on Mermaid Avenue (named after the street in Brooklyn where Guthrie lived at the time of his death)  in the studio to work by.

Here’s one of my favorites, Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key.

 

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