Ninety-three year old Pete Seeger isn’t slowing down. This week, he is releasing two discs: Pete Remembers Woody and A More Perfect Union.
The Woody in the first title of course is Woody Guthrie, who is celebrating his centennial year. A More Perfect Union is a collaboration with Seeger’s old friend Lorre Wyatt. Contributors include Bruce Springsteen, Tom Morello, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, and Dar Williams.
The photos in the clip above were taken for the Farm Services Administration by John Vachon.
This is Woody Guthrie’s centennial year, which is unfortunately appropriate considering the drought that is decimating large portions of the country.Yesterday, The New York Times ran a commentary on Guthrie, one of the two or three most iconic musicians in American history.
Maybe that’s what happens to dissidents who are dead long enough. They are reborn for folk tales and children’s books and PBS pledge drives. They become safe enough for the Postal Service. “For a man who fought all his life against being respectable, this comes as a stunning defeat,” Arlo Guthrie said in 1998, when his father was put on a 32-cent stamp.
Will Kaufman’s book “Woody Guthrie, American Radical” tried to set the record straight last year. The sentimental softening and warping of Woody’s reputation began early, even as he was dying, in the 1960s. But under the saintly folk hero has always been an angry vigilante — a fascist-hating, Communist-sympathizing rabble-rouser who liked to eviscerate his targets, sometimes with violent imagery. He was a man of many contradictions, but he was always against the rich and on the side of the oppressed.
Most important, of course, is the music: Here is a nice cover of This Train is Bound for Glory and Guthrie’s versions of The Ludlow Massacre, Talking Dust Bowl Blues, The Grand Coulee and, of course, This Land is Your Land.
The New York Times offers an interesting article on Woody at 100, a three-CD boxed set from the Smithsonian Institution. The story mentions Guthrie’s best known song, This Land is Your Land (originally This Land), includes the second verse of the song that isn’t often sung. The lyrics aren’t startling by today’s standards, but the stanza isn’t clearly the patriotic crowd-pleaser of the first.
Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger sang the song–including that second verse–at President Obama’s inauguration (here it is). It’s a bit ironic. Springsteen’s Born in the USA, like This Land is Your Land, often is mistakenly thought to be a blindly patriotic ode. Both are anything but.
Here is Guthrie’s transcription of This Land, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons:
Los Lobos, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir do perhaps the greatest American patriotic song. Thanks for visiting the site.
Like Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen has managed to remain relevant as a musician and as a lyricist despite being a superstar. Being a superstar likely leads to an insular life — one that is quite unlike the life that person led before. Maintaining creativity probably is a difficult thing to do.
Like Young, Springsteen has two identities: Folk singer and rocker. Springsteen clearly revels in his links and debts to Leadbelly, Pete Seeger (the clip above is from “The Seeger Sessions”), Dylan, Woody Guthrie and others. He mentions them often.
Perhaps the synergies and tensions between the two overlapping worlds — rock superstar and folk musician with something to say — helps both Springsteen and Young (who recently released an album of folk and traditional songs) remain creative.
Here is what’s happening today, updated as often as possible: NorthJersey.com offers reviews from the Associated Press and The Philadelphia Inquirer of work from Counting Crows, Monica, Bonnie Raitt and Loudon Wainwright III…The Washington Post calls Rebecca Pigeon’s sixth album, Slighshot, “dark and enchanting”…Kevin Puts won a Pulitzer Prize for music for Silent Night: Opera in Two Acts…Woody Guthrie’s music lives on, according to a story at The Republic (of Columbus, Indiana)…Screenwriter Melissa Webster likes old fashioned record stores…Splash.FM, which this GigaOm story describes as a social networking site for music, is live…In a short video at Singersroom, Andre Harrell, CEO of Harrell Records, says that the music business still is the place to be…Justin Kantor reviews The Very Best of T.S.O.B. Records, which features music from 1980 to 1982. TSOB stands for The Sounds of Brooklyn…I don’t know who Tracy Lawrence is, but I feel bad for him nonetheless…The first artists for the North Coast Music Festival set for Chicago over Labor Day Weekend have been announced…The Bellingham (WA) Herald posted PopMatter’s reviews of albums by Spiritualized, Moonface, Our Lady Peace, Horse Feathers and Dar Williams…Eighty-year-old country singer George Jones had to cancel shows in Minnesota and South Dakota due to an upper respiratory illness…According to Time magazine and last.fm, Atlanta now is the leader in oveerall music trends. Atlanta also led in hip hop and Montreal in indie trends.