This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie, and in these hard times of tinkle-down economics, we sure could use some of his hard-hitting musical stories and inspired lyrical populism.
He wouldn’t even need to write any new material. For example, just as in his day, our Wall Street banksters are getting rich, even as the victims of their narcissistic greed are getting pink slips and eviction notices. He already wrote about this outrage in his great old song. “Pretty Boy Floyd,” including this verse:
“Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered,
I’ve seen lots of funny men.
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.
And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won’t never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.”
Guthrie unabashedly celebrated America’s working class, seeing in such people a strong commitment to the common good that lifts America up. This drove The Powers That Be crazy (a pretty short ride for many of them back then, just as it is today). So they branded him a unionist, a communist and all sorts of other “ists” — but he withered them with humor that got people laughing at them: “I ain’t a communist necessarily, but I have been in the red all my life.”
Going down those “ribbons of highway” that he extolled in “This Land Is Your Land,” Guthrie found that the only real hope of fairness and justice was in the people themselves. Woody preached that “There is just one way to save yourself, and that’s to get together and work and fight for everybody.” Indeed, that’s exactly what grassroots Americans are doing all across our country today. From Occupy Wall Street to the ongoing Wisconsin uprising, people are adding their own verses to Woody’s musical refrain: “I ain’t a-gonna be treated this a-way.”
Where’s Woody when we need him? He’s right there, inside each of us. To save ourselves and our country, we must all be Woody.