Nora Guthrie at the Library of Congress Podcast 1hr.
Transcript of talk given by Woodie Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, at the Library of Congress 2012.
nora guthrie 29/3/2012
library of congress lecture on woodie guthrie
>> From the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. ^M00:00:05 [ Silence ]
>> Betsy Peterson: Good afternoon everyone [chuckle]. I see many friends and familiar faces in the audience. My name is Betsy Peterson. I’m the Director of the American Folk Life Center here at the Library of Congress for all of two months. Not the Library of Congress but me, [applause] and this is my first opportunity to introduce a lecturer in the Botkin — Benjamin Botkin series and I’m thrilled to be here. The Botkin series as many of you I’m sure probably know is a chance of the American Folk Life Center to interact with scholars, to interact with the public, to interact with individuals who are engaged in and interested in folk life and cultural heritage and it’s one way for us to share the wealth of the American Folklife Center. It’s also an opportunity for us to build our collections and as you may notice there are some cameras around. We video tape all of the — not the concerts the lectures and later post them up on the web. So you will have an opportunity revisit this lecture, but I say all of this also is a reminder to everyone to please turn off your cell phones. That would be a good idea [chuckle]. Today this is I believe the second lecture in 2012 that’s part of the series and today I have the honor of introducing Nora Guthrie who is the daughter of a great American and a great American singer and song writer Woody Guthrie who you all know and love. She’s the Director of the Guthrie Archives and the President of the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Woody Guthrie Publications. For the last 20 years Nora has been the steward in a sense of her father’s collection and has supported ongoing research into his life and career and has worked to create new works based on the legacy that Woody left behind following his death in 1967. Nora will be talking a bit about many of the projects and her relationship with her father, but she’s developed projects in the last several years that have brought Woody’s vast cultural and creative legacy to life. Most recently in the work with Bruce Springsteen and in the pairing of Woody’s lyrics with contemporary artists which I think has contributed to maybe a reassessment or rethinking of — of his work. She has also stewarded the publication or spear-headed the publication of over 150 new lyrics and arts works over the last 20 years. I don’t know if some of you saw on the web on new year’s day [background noise] the post of — I don’t know if it was apocryphal or not but a page from one of Woody’s notebooks of new year’s resolutions but it made the rounds on Boingo, Boingo and elsewhere. But this year is a special year in all of this work because it’s a centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth in 1912 and in celebrating that Nora’s coproducing in cooperation with the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles a yearlong tribute to her father. There will be events including conferences, a touring exhibit, concerts which will follow Woody’s road from Oklahoma to New York culminating in a concert here at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. As a coda to this as some of you probably know the American Folklife Center is proud to be a home for some of the work and collections related to Woody Guthrie including original correspondents, manuscripts, essays, artwork, song lyrics and recordings. And I am pleased to announce that in honor of this lecture, the AFC staff who works tirelessly has just added a newly-updated finding aid to our website. So if you’re interested I really want to encourage you to discover that finding aid but also, all of the archival holdings of the American Folklife Center related to Woody Guthrie and visit it. It’s called Woody Guthrie Collections in the Archival Folk Culture, http://www.loc.gov /folklife/guides/Guthrie.html. And lastly what I’d like to do is just take an opportunity to present Nora with a very — a small token of our appreciation and affection. This is a newly transferred DVD copy of the 1947 film “To Hear Your Banjo Play.” Which was written by Alan Lomax, and it’s from the Pete and Toshi Seeger film collection and we think it contains some unknown footage of Woody and Mary Guthrie square dancing. So we thought you might like to have that. But enough of all of this and enough of me talking and I will turn this over to Nora Guthrie and please join me in welcoming here.
^M00:05:53 [ Applause ]
>> Nora Guthrie: Thank you. This is fun to be here. My dad was here 70 years ago. In 1940 Alan Lomax invited him here to do some recordings and here I am 70 years later [laughter] still trying to explain the guy. But this is interesting. This has a little square dance footage on it that we just discovered about a month or two. I’ve seen parts of this film before actually and the part I never paid attention to was the dance sequence. Its three squares for a 12 — 16, no for 12 people dancing and I was looking at it. we’re working on publishing a — a new manuscript from the archives with Johnny Depp has a new imprint of his own and we’re working with his crew to publish this unknown manuscript and while we were working with them I was showing them some footage like, “So this is what Woody looks like.” That kind of stuff and then there’s this square dance going on and I’m sitting there and I’m like, “God damn, that guy looks familiar.” [Laughter] And he’s like — and I didn’t say anything and then the archivist was sitting over there and she’s thinking, “Good damn that guy looks like Woody Guthrie.” Anyway, isn’t that weird 70 years later I’m looking at this film. We excerpted it — we have it blown up and there is Woody Guthrie with his first wife Mary, just one of many people square dancing and he was an extra in the film. He dances very well I must say, really cute. So don’t give me ideas because every time I find stuff like this I’m thinking, “My next project — Woody Guthrie a square dancer — hmm — let’s have nice film. Well maybe we’ll choreograph something to that.” I don’t know I’m always getting ideas because Woody just inspires so many ideas. The guy is all over the place and therefore I am all over the place. So what I thought I’d talk a little bit about today is just a brief — the program is called My Father, My Partner. And I thought I’d give you a little bit of the first part and maybe a little bit more of the second part because I think the second part is more interesting. For those of you who don’t know, Woody came to New York in 1940 in February and he shacked up with Will Geer an actor who was living in New York City at the time. Stayed on his couch for about a week and then moved over to a flop house — and old hotel on Sixth Avenue and 43rd Street, right across from town hall for those of you who know the city. And it was right above a pawn shop just a two story like little flat and he spent about five days in this boarding house and one day he wrote a song called “Government Road.” The next day he wrote a song called “Jesus Christ.” The next day he wrote a song called this land is your land and the next day he wrote a song called “Women’s Hats.” And that kind of says it all [laughter] — in nutshell that’s Woody Guthrie. You’ve got a song about the government, you’ve got a song about girls, you’ve got a song about the country, the land, you got a song about Jesus, spirituality. This was the interest that he had. He was interested in anything and everything and one of the lessons that I and anyone who’s worked with Woody’s archives has learned is that you’re allowed to be interested in everything. A lot of times society kind of wants to say, “Oh, what’s your focus? What’s your focus?” It’ll work sometimes but sometimes it’s really nice not to have a focus and just see what is happening in front of you. And that’s what Woody has done, he’s given us all permission to stand in one place and turn around 360 degrees and see what’s happening around you. Just look up from your cell phone, turn around and see what’s happening [background chuckle]. So back to my point — so he was in New York in 1940 and 1943 he met my mother who was a dancer with the Martha Graham Company in New York. This was a woman unlike any other woman he had met. A lot of women in New York were like — unlike women he had ever met. He was hanging out with Martha Graham, he’s hanging out with Mother Bohr [spelling?], he’s hanging out with my mom and that whole crowd of women that were very, very active in politics and in the arts. They were real ground-breakers. Anyway, one of the dancers was working on a piece, a ballet and she had choreographed a sequence to one of Woody’s Dust Bowl ballads. He recorded it very shortly after arriving in New York. He arrived in February, he meet Alan Lomax in March, he was recording in the Library of Congress in — I want to say March or April — correct me if anybody knows correctly — March or April, a whirl wind entrance into New York City and East Coast cultural life. By April he was back in New York living and hanging out with Pete Seeger who he met here in at the Library of Congress. He was an intern [background chuckle], he was nineteen years old. I think my dad was like 27, 28 — maybe Pete was 20 but you get the gist of my drift here, two awfully young guys. They come back to New York, they shack up with an artist in a loft on 31st Street there in New York and they have a little cot that Woody’s sleeping in and the guy makes modern art sculpture. Big like Picasso kind of like sculptures and they put Woody in a little cot in the back room and Pete comes over every day and Alan Lomax one day comes over and gives them a pile of papers this big and says, “These are songs that my dad collected that are from all over the country. They’re work songs, they’re protest songs, they’re union songs. but they’re a little bit too hot to handle. So they don’t want to publish them but maybe you guys can do something with it.” Within a couple of weeks little Pete Seeger, he was a little kid, can you imagine Pete Seeger at 20? My dad at 27 put together with Alan a new song book called “Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People.” Right after that Woody gets some radio shows in New York and he becomes somewhat of a celebrity. He decides he doesn’t like being a celebrity, and he leaves New York [background laugh] . That’s the story but he does come back later on and that’s where he met my mother in 1943 and she was in this ballet and they said, “Let’s get Woody to come and play live for the ballet.” And so they went to the loft where he was living and they invited him to come play live. The show was like the next day. They’d been rehearsing to the record. It was like, “Oh my God, we get to play live.” And so he saw these very pretty dancers and said, “Sure, [laughter] sure.” Went over the — to rehearsal. He screwed up every note, every line, every beat. He totally wrecked the ballet like in choreography it’s like geometry, you know, a dancer jumps on three and someone has to catch them on four. But when Woody sang the song he left out the four [laughter] and then they have five, six, seven, eight to get across the stage, you know, leaping –five and a six and a seven and a eight and he decides to do, nine 10, 11, 12, 13 and he’s just like — you know, screwing up left and right. So the head of the dance ballet company said, “How do we get him off the program? Now that we’ve invited him on how do we get rid of him or what can we do to make him play better?” So my mother who was Miss Organization — I’m just going to take a minute to point out Miss Organization.
^M00:14:31 [ Noises ]
^M00:14:40 >> Nora Guthrie: That’s her — bottom left you can come up later and see it. And by the way the guy in the middle is Morris Cunningham. Anyway that’s another story. When I come back and I do my dance lecture Woody and dancers that’s a whole other story. But anyway my mother was sent to rehearse with him overnight — overnight [laughter]. And my mother made little flashcards like for kids and she wrote out the songs with a little like a ping pong ball you know just pointing, like “you got to do three, four, sing this way Woody.” Well he was so amused that this woman was spending a night with him coaxing him with the ping pong ball thing, you know he just kept doing it wrong [laughter]. Anyway, long story short, that’s how they met. He did end up doing the ballet and I heard it went off without any catastrophes. And then he stayed in New York from then pretty much. They got married and that’s why I have a Brooklyn accent [laughter]. People always ask like, “You don’t sound like you’re from Oklahoma.” No, because we’re all Brooklyn born and bred, Coney Island material, basically. Coney Island trash some people say [chuckle]. But — so that’s the background and shortly after I was born in 1950 my father started showing serious symptoms of Huntington’s disease. So my relationship with my father was really one of a caretaker. Anyone who’s lived with someone who’s basically completely disabled, you know what that’s like and I would say the first 16 years of my life were not good. My life was good but my relationship with my dad was very, very, very stressful and not pretty. I don’t know if it’s okay to use a word like ugly but, in those days people with Huntington’s — there was nothing known about the disease. There was no medication, there was nothing and my dad was basically put in a psychiatric [background noises] ward with about 50 other patients and just put there, you know, just to survive. My mother used to pay other patients a couple of bucks to make sure that he could eat because with Huntington’s disease you lose control of your limbs and in the wards they would just drop off trays in front of the beds and then come pick up the trays in about a half an hour later. So my mother had to pay patients to make sure he got the food to this mouth. It’s really like out of a really bad Jack Nicolson movie. You know, it’s like whatever you can imagine it really was like, that and I didn’t at all enjoy going to the hospitals. They were scary, and they were dirty, and they smelled, and people were really weird in these wards — as a child. So my mother started bringing him home on the weekends and he ended up coming home most of the weekends of those 15 years where we basically scrubbed him clean. We washed him, we bathed him, we did his laundry, we ironed shirts. We filled him up with high-calorie food because when you have Huntington’s you’re moving all the time. Your body is burning calories all the time. So he was like a stick figure and on Sundays when he would come home that was the role that the family really played, washing, feeding, cleaning and always with music playing and always with people, his friends, coming over to the house to play music for him. He particularly loved hearing his own songs played to him and I think he needed to feel that this wasn’t all for nothing, that somehow he had done something in this world that would outlast him and he loved hearing his songs. And one of the cute stories is one is, when the younger generation started coming out on Sundays to visit. People like Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, et cetera, and they would all come out like, “I’m going to play my new song for Woody Guthrie.” And Woody would just look at them and go, “Play mine.” [Laughter] He didn’t want to hear their songs. And the few people that got it that really understood what he was asking for — he was asking to be kept alive for a little longer [background noise]. And if you’re going to come out and visit, you’re going to help. We’re not here to give to you; you’re here to help with Woody. And so the people that got that and I have to really, really credit Dylan, John Cohen from the New Lost City Ramblers, and some of those young guys were absolutely fantastic. And they learned very quickly and Bob Dylan said, “Learn very early on, my job was to go out there and serve him, not to have him serve me and tell me what a great song writer I am.” And when people ask me about my relationship with all those people now, I get really teary-eyed, because they were absolutely wonderful to come out and to play “Pastures of Plenty” and “Pretty Boy Floyd” and all those songs over and over and over again for my dad and I’ll love them forever for that. So in a nutshell I hope I’ve kind of painted you a picture about that early childhood. There was no conversations by the way when people ask me, “What did your father say about this or think about that?” et cetera. There were no conversations. People with Huntington’s have a very, very hard time talking and if he could talk all it would be was to ask for something to eat or drink — something along those lines, very simple sentences. There were no long philosophical talks about life. Someone asked me the other day, “What did he think about the communist party? Didn’t he talk about it at home?” I said, “No.” He said, “Give me a hot dog.” [Laugh] Very basic things that he talked about and he passed away in 1967, finally. And I must say also during those years there was constant music around the house. Always sent up from Smithsonian Folkways and Moe Asch was constantly sending up his new recordings, “Woody listen to this,” “Woody listen to that,” et cetera. So he really loved hearing the music but again I’ll just stress once more he always wanted to hear his own. If he had a new recording — if someone had a new recording of his songs that’s what he wanted to listen to and he would play it over and over and over. My relationship with folk music was iffy [laugh], to say it best, and I’ll tell you why because all the folk singers were guys [background talking]. It’s that simple. And I remember all the guys that came over, all the Dylans and the Phil Ochs and all the young guys — they were hardly ever women involved. My mother was involved, but as a caretaker not as a participant, although she was a better musician then any of them. But it really seemed to me to be a guy thing. And they tuned a lot [laughter]. Do you know how annoying it is to sit around listening to ten people tune? Like if you’re not tuning it’s not fun. Like if you’re tuning you can get into it, if you’re not tuning — it’s like 20 minutes before — it’s like, why am I here? So I would helpfully leave the house and leave all the guys to tune. And then I would go out in the streets. I lived in Brooklyn at the time. We were raised in Coney Island in Brooklyn and I was dancing in the streets with Martha and the Vandellas, you know. I was doing the Locomotion and singing with the Everly Brothers and just enjoying their early rock and roll and the music that came after that. And I honestly didn’t feel included in the scene. You know it wasn’t as inviting as you might have imagined. And I was trying to remember the other day if there was like any women that came out. I know Woody worked with women with the Almanac Singers, you know Sis Cunningham, Bess Hawes, Jean Ritchie, all those people, but for some reason in this scene, like Woody was becoming a guy thing. I see the guys; you know what I’m talking about. If you know all the guys, like, suddenly they’re wearing jeans and they’re wearing plaid flannel shirts and they’re wearing work boots. Can you see yourself now in 1960 something or other? Jeff, anybody [chuckle]? I know you — know you, and the guys had a whole thing about Woody. And that was a look, it was a walk. How many guys walked down the street with guitars just slung over their backs? Not in a guitar case just slung over your back — that was the look at that time. Anyway it was something I couldn’t really identify with. It didn’t look like much fun and so I really escaped folk music. It was in my head, it was in my life. The first banjo I ever heard was Pete Seeger; the first harmonica I ever heard was Sonny Terry. You know, just by osmosis you — you learn, you pick up things but I literally wasn’t involved in it at all. Then just quickly I was in modern dance in New York. I took up my mother’s side because I was a girl and because I was the youngest too. I have two older brothers and they both play guitar and they’re both really good. And then I had right above me Jack Elliot – Ramblin’ Jack Elliot was living with us. He was really good too. And then you had all these other guys like Dylan and Phil Ochs and John Cohen and they were all there like they were all really good. So what does a healthy girl do? She does something else. So I picked up piano and I became a dancer. Anyway I’m going to fast forward until 19 — 1990s, and there was a man named Harold Leventhal who was managing everyone in folk music in those days. He was the first manager of the Weavers and then he stuck with folk musicians from then on. His whole crew was at times Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Melanie, Belafonte, I mean, Johnny Cash. He just, like, did everybody — everybody worked with him and he called me up one day and said, “I think I’m going to retire soon and someone in the family has to come here just kind of keep track of a few things — like, you know, if you get a royalty payment, deposit it.” You know, simple little things like that well, okay, all right. So I went to help and I started out. Joe Klein had just done his interviews for his book “Woody Guthrie a Life.” So I guess it was — he did those in the eighties and Joe had just sent the office — the tapes of the interviews he had done. He says, “You guys can keep them there.” Now this was just an office building, actually — just offices like a cubical here, and a cubical there, and a cubical there. There was no archives there was nothing. And so Harold put me in the closet with a desk, because I was volunteering. He says, “You know, just one or two times a week you come in.” My first job was to look at the Joe Klein tapes and to type up the names, who he’s interviewing and put a little label on the box and then that’s it. So that’s what I did. And then Harold came in and he put a big box of stuff in my — I don’t want to say office, in my closet [chuckle] and he says, “This is your dad’s stuff. Why don’t you look through it?” I went, “Eh, what am I going to find? You know, I don’t know.” Aren’t I dumb [laughter]? My dad taught me it’s really fun to be dumb too because then you can get smart. If you start smart there’s nowhere to go [chuckle]. Start dumb — straight up. So I reached into this box of stuff and I pulled out a piece of writing that I looked at and it was called, “I say to you woman and man I say to you woman and man go dance.” Well my ears perked up with that one because all along I didn’t think I had a relationship with my dad. Like I didn’t think I had a real — you know, the guys had the real relationship, they all played guitar, you know, and mine was kind of peripheral. I read through this piece of writing, I swear to God, everything in this poem was something that I had done with my life. I say to you, “Woman go dance.” Well, [inaudible] I did it, I went dancing. “I said to my woman, Go to your vote box and dah, dah, dah” — I did that. “I say to my woman, Dance out and be in an office” — and it’s very poetic. I’m not being poetic I’m paraphrasing. Basically he listed about ten things that he was inspiring a woman to do. And then the last line of the whole thing is like “and if your guy has trouble with that, screw him.” [Laughter] He didn’t write that word but he said, “If your guy has trouble with it.” He says to the guy, “you haven’t found your juicy life. If you have a problem with your wife or your lover having a juicy wife it’s because you don’t have a juicy wife — a juicy life. [Chuckle] So don’t stop her from doing what she has to do.” Anyway I started getting all teary eyed. I actually cried and I realized that my father had been encouraging me and inspiring me to live a very rich and full life and it wasn’t at all about folk music, it was about life. And that’s where I got the like the light bulb went off because I had no credentials to do anything with Woody’s material as long as it was just limited to a guitar. I don’t tune [chuckle]. I thought — but here was saying, “It’s much more than that. It’s about life. It’s about voting it’s about your work, it’s about sex, it’s about this, dah, dah, dah.” And I went, “I did it, I did that. That’s what I’ve been doing.” So I felt like my dad going, “Good kid, good kid now let’s get to work.” And so the first thing I did was I called up someone — I believe it was Jeff Place — I think he was somebody like that and I said, “We’ve got these boxes of my dad’s stuff here and I don’t know what to do with it.” And they sent up someone, an archivist, to come up to my closet and sit — I remember sitting there. I think I had the original “This Land Is Your Land” on the desk [background noise]. And for you archivists in the room just go like this. [Laughter] Don’t listen this is going to hurt. And I think I had like hot chocolate [laughter] and I had like this “Land is Your Land” original lyrics, like “Jesus Christ” original lyrics, “Pretty Boy Floyd,” you know, it was like, “What do I do with this stuff?” [Laughter] The archivist who came up very politely sat down and said, “First thing we do is this. [Chuckle] Move the hot chocolate away from the lyrics.”
^M00:31:04 [ Laughter ]
^M00:31:12 >> That’s how the archive started and the man was Jorge Arevalo who’s still working with us today. He taught me what an archive is, he taught me not to drink hot chocolate when you’re handling primary source materials which I now know that language, et cetera and what — what really escalated them was as we started unpacking these boxes it was very, very interesting to me — I just kept finding things that I had never heard of before. I heard of Dust Bowl ballads. I had heard of some of the material — you know, the songs “Pastures of Plenty,” and all that stuff. But I was finding weird stuff that I never knew about and I thought, “Well that’s me. I don’t know anything. You know I’m not in folk music so I don’t know anything.” So I showed a pile — Pete Seeger came in one day and, “Pete come look at this. Have you seen this? Have you seen this?” These were all lyrics and he’s like, “No, no, what’s that?” I said, “These are like — Woody wrote these. Don’t you know? You guys travelled together, you’re like best friends, don’t you know all this stuff?” And he goes, “No, I never saw that.” And then I asked Arlo, my brother like, “You know that dad wrote this and wrote that?” No, he didn’t [background noise] know it. And I still don’t know the answer. Don’t anyone ask me why. Nobody saw it in 40 years I have no idea. All I know is that we uncovered 3,001 lyrics to date. Someone here might know the exact number of recorded Woody Guthrie songs. I would guesstimate on the high end 300. I might be over…
>> Male speaker: Maybe four.
>> Nora Guthrie: Maybe four of his own songs?
>> Male speaker: Probably not his own yeah.
>> Nora Guthrie: Probably 200, 300 of his own songs but then we had counted 3,001 to date. Plus all the artwork and original writings and everything and I really became fascinated. Bob Dylan once said a wonderful thing. He said, “If you listen to Woody Guthrie’s songs you’ll learn how to live.” And that stuck in my gut. And I realized, we all have the potential to have a relationship with this man, and it has nothing to do with the guitar and tuning. You can approach him from lots and lots of different access points. And that’s what happened to me. I approached him from a poem and through this poem, “I say to you woman and man go dance.” I suddenly became interested like, “Boy this is like early feminist kind of stuff.” 1941 he’s writing this, and then I started reading more and more. And the awareness that I was talking about in the very beginning, this 360 degree view of life, for some reason, I really don’t know why, hasn’t really been notated correctly in my point of view. So we all know about the folk side of Woody and we know many of the folk songs he wrote. But I died when I found out he wrote a song about Ingrid Bergman. It was a love song to Ingrid Bergman. It was more than a love song it was like an offer. [Laughter] I died when I found out that he was writing songs about Joe DiMaggio and baseball players at the time. I could just go through — you give me a letter and I’ll tell you a lyric that begins on any topic from A to Z. Zoos — he wrote songs about Zoos and animals. And that’s when I really became very, very involved with the body of work and the reason being is because I went to a conference of which I wasn’t a speaker. I was like sitting in the back seat there and most of the scholars were talking about Woody’s work at this conference and I would say 50% of it was not correct. Through no fault of the scholars or the researchers. They had no access to this material. They just — nobody knew. If Pete Seeger doesn’t know, [chuckle] very few people knew. So that’s when I began thinking that my responsibility really had to be to get some of this material out so that the next conference 20 years later which are taking place now — now they don’t have any excuse. Now there’s no excuse. If you don’t know it’s because you didn’t read or you didn’t listen or you weren’t paying attention. And what I really tried to do is look at all these from 360 degrees perspective of Woody’s lyrics in particular and create projects like Woody always did. What do they call them? Like cycles, song cycles. Is that the term you guys use? Something like that. [Inaudible speaker] But it’s the idea — well you have one idea and you write a whole bunch of material based on one idea. So a dust bowl ballad is an example of that. Woody did the cycle on Vanzetti song — cycle’s pieces around that. He did children songs around that. Well then I found out that he did — he would write tons of stuff about Jewish holidays. Give me a break dust bowl balladeer [chuckle]. Do you — ever hear a guy from Oklahoma says, “How many latkes –?” I can’t even do it. It doesn’t even — it doesn’t work. He wrote a song called, “How Many Latkes Can You Eat?” I can’t even say it in a Western — how many — I can’t do it. How many how many latkes — no, that’s not right. He wrote the “Blintz Tree.” [Laughter] He wrote “Nosh O Nosh on My Hamantash” [laughter]. Give me a break. [Laughter] He wrote serious songs, he wrote the whole story of Hanukkah in 19 verses. It’s a long story. For every night Woody wrote two versus and every character in the story is correct. I checked it with a Jewish scholar. I said, “Is he right? Did he get it right?” “Yeah he got it right.” So that — with that kind of stuff I collected all of that material, as much as I could, and put it into — in a song cycle box and then said, “Who’s around that I can work with to get this material out?” So that, sometimes a Jewish organization comes and says, “We want to do — we want to do a nice thing on Woody Guthrie.” And I say, “Have I got a song for you.” [Laughter] So I had the pleasure of recording with the Klezmatics. I did two albums with the Klezmatics. One on Jewish life and culture called “Wonder Wheel” which they won a Grammy for that year, and another one of Woody’s Hanukkah songs which were all written, like, within 10 days. He would sit himself in one place and just write Hanukkah songs. Like “Hanukkah Tree,” “Hanukkah Gelt,” “Hanukkah Dance,” “Hanukkah Toot,” “Hanukkah Sleep,” Hanukkah Everything. Hanukkah, Hanukkah, Hanukkah. And then he would spell Hanukkah in different ways [laughs]. So that’s the kind of thing that I’ve spent the last 20 years just trying to get my head around because I think when you look at studying Woody’s Hanukkah material, you find out more than just Hanukkah. You find out what Woody things about religion, of what Woody thinks about spirituality. One of the lines in one of the Hanukkah songs, it’s called “Hanukkah’s Flame,” and he describes a menorah in the window. And he says, “Okay, so you have your menorah lights up your home in your religion but, it also lights the path that goes by your window when someone is going somewhere else.” I loved that image that your religion can actually shine a light on someone else’s path on their journey to find their religion or their spirituality. So that’s why I like doing this material. I get back to Bob Dylan — you can actually learn how to live by looking at this material. Another thing that came up in the conference years ago was the fact that Woody didn’t write love songs. He was mostly known for his political and his Dust Bowl ballads. And here I had hundreds of love songs [laugh] — lyrics that were never recorded some were really raunchy and will never be recorded. And some were you know, palatable and they were recorded and I was able to — the tone of those particular lyrics really reminded me of jazz, actually, a lot of them. And I had the opportunity of doing an album with Jonathan Brooke, with jazz musicians Christian McBride and Joe Sample. Some of you knows, and Steve Gad — great drummer — so putting together an ensemble that would set music to these un-recorded lyrics. So there will never be another conference that said Woody Guthrie didn’t write love songs, because you didn’t do your homework if you can say that. And anyway it’s just been like going through these projects little by little and finding so many different topics that have to do with the world around us. As an example, though, of one of Woody’s love songs — this is the difference and this is what turned me on to Woody’s love songs. Because when he whispered sweet something in her ear, you know what he said? “I love the unions. [Laughter]. It’s you and me baby in a union. We’re going to go out and picket together. We’re going to boycott together.” [Laughter] I thought, who says stuff like that? You know. [Laughter] How does Woody turn union into the sexiest thing this side of the Mississippi? And not only that, but why didn’t anyone else? Why aren’t unions sexy? Why aren’t they places where people fall love and meet and work together to make the world a better place and procreate and have union kids? [Laughter] I thought he’s take on it was so interesting, you know what I mean? I think the juiciness of everything — there was another lyric that I did with Michael Ferranti, if you know him, rap singer. She really likes him [indicates audience member]. Michael Ferranti is a rap singer from the coast, west coast and I did a song with him called ‘Union Love Juice.’ [Background sound] Union love juice don’t you think people would line up to join for a song like that? And the temptations of a love song like that? And this is the world that Woody lived in. He fell in love with a union woman. It was passionate, it was sexy, it was — you could dance to it. You know what I mean? And I did this song with Michael Ferrante and one of the reviews of the album later said; “this is a Guthrie inspired album.” This is a tribute to Woody. Contemporary writers writing about their thing as a tribute to Woody — because Woody Guthrie never would have written “Union Love Juice.” Can you imagine? First of all he didn’t even call and ask and do his fact check, the critic — can you imagine this is what the perception and sometimes it’s such a boring perception, and it’s horrible, because it’s a very juicy guy here we’re talking about. And he’s whispering sweet nothings into these girls’ ears about unions and picket lines and et cetera and socialism at times. [Laughter] So I immediately got in touch with the critic and said, “Do your homework. This is a Woody Guthrie lyric. I have not changed one word of it; this is what he says in the song.” And that’s an album called “Note of Hope” that I did with a base player named Rob Lawson. Some of you might know his name and we brought in people like Lou Reed, Madeleine Peru, Nelly McKay, if you know her name, Chris Whitley — blues guys, even Studs Terkel. I was able to record with Studs. There was a wonderful scene, a bar scene, that Woody had written about, and I wanted someone who could deliver a bar scene, and that was the voice of Studs Terkel. So I’ve had the opportunity to work with again, I’m going around 360 degrees — if there’s a song and it’s about love, well, it takes one kind of musician to pull it off. If it’s a song about Judaism or Hanukah takes another kind of musician. And I haven’t limited myself for one second to working with anybody and everybody in any genre because I basically want to say that’s what I learned from him. On our birth certificates under religion it says all or none. [Chuckle] You can’t top that, you know, he’s basically saying, “All baby, all.” And that’s what I’ve been trying to do with my work for the last 20 years and in addition to trying to be organized enough, taking my mother’s genes now and creating the archives. It’s been open to the public for about 20 years now and we’ve had some really, really interesting research going on, so that it’s not just me. I feel like I’m going to go to my death, to my grave saying, “He wrote love songs,” or “he wrote this — Hanukah songs” or whatever.” And I feel like as I get older other people have to start taking on this work because it can’t just be me going around making speeches and entertaining people with Woody Guthrie’s stories, you know. So that’s what I — I opened the archives hoping that people would really come in and look at these lyrics, et cetera. Luckily out of the 3,001 lyrics that I know about, they’re not all good, that’s a joke. [Laughter] I don’t have to worry about recording 3,001 lyrics. I could get away with 2,000. But then, I had a really funny experience, where I had a punk band up in the archives one day. We were working with one of the lyrics and they [background talking] were from Boston. This was called Dropkick Murphys, if anyone knows that band, and they were looking through stuff. And they found the stupidest lyric in the archives. It’s just got to be the dumbest thing, is it on this picture? No it’s not there. It’s so dumb we didn’t even put it up there. It’s two verses and he must’ve been drunk when he wrote it and it says, “I’m shipping up to Boston, ho ho ho, I’m shipping up to Boston, ha ha ha. I’m a pirate, I’ve got one leg.” and I can imagine because he was researching — he was doing the Sacco and Vanzetti stuff with Cisco Houston and they were going up to Boston supposedly to research Sacco and Vanzetti. The guys must have been so bombed and he’s writing pirate songs up there instead of researching Sacco and Vanzetti. Such a dummy — not Woody, the song. Anyway so these guys took it back with them, they’re from Boston like, “What the hell it’s got the word Boston in it”, they just thought that was cute. And they came out with a masterpiece called “I’m shipping up to Boston.” Mike Scorsese heard it and made it one of the theme songs for his film “The Departed.” Then the Red Socks were in the series that year, [background laughter] they heard it because they’re Boston and it’s like here’s a Boston band doing a Boston song and a Boston Red Sox. So they played it at every damn baseball game for the Boston Red Sox. Then what happened? They won the series. [Laughter] And everyone’s playing this [sounds] and Papelbon, the pitcher, he comes out in the middle of the freaking World Series and he’s doing an Irish jig to a Woody Guthrie’s song. [Laughter] There’s a lot of really bizarre things that happened when — so I’ve tempered myself whenever I say the songs aren’t good. Sometimes it depends with what you do with it. These guys did a great job with it. And the other thing — I’ll just go back in time a little bit — the first opportunity I had to work with these lyrics was with Billy Bragg and Wilco — and that was kind of an experiment and I’ll just tell you a short story. Someone had sent a — someone had sent a tape to the office, a cassette tape, they had seen a lyric published in a book and it was a young singer. He decided to set it to music. Sent us a tape, and he sent it to Harold Leventhal, and Harold comes to my office and he’s like, “Can you believe these people? What do they think? They can just write music to Woody Guthrie’s lyrics? What are they crazy?” And he threw it in the garbage and he walked out. Now Harold has been protecting Woody and Pete and all these other singers for many, many years — that’s his job — you know, to be the manager. So I picked it up out of the garbage pail and I walked into his office I said, “Have you listened to it?” “No.” Back in the garbage pail. I picked it up and I said, “I think maybe I’ll just give it a listen.” And I took it back to my room and I played it, and it was just one of the most beautiful songs that was written by guy named Slade Cleaves. And he had taken one of Woody’s lyrics, “This Morning I Am Born Again,” absolutely brilliant job and I went back into Harold’s office said, “This is good, this is beautiful, people should be hearing this kind of stuff.” So that was the chanciness, that was the thing that really gave me the impetus to take chances like this and when I first worked with Wilco and Billy Bragg, that’s what we did. We quietly without anyone knowing for probably six months we’re sending tapes back and forth, and there was real controversy at the time. I don’t know how librarians and archivists feel about this, this seems to be two different camps of opinion. But some people at the time saying it was like rewriting history. If he left the play half-finished you should leave it half finished. That’s in its purest form. And I was thinking, “He was just a frigging song writer and I think he would have liked to have heard his songs sung.” And for various and sundry reasons, because of Huntington’s disease, because of World War Two, because of Dust bowls, because of tragedies, he never had a straight trajectory in his life. He was, every time he got going with writings something came up and interrupted him.” And I really feel like I’m just trying to catch up. You know, I’m not doing anything other than that. I’m just trying to catch up. If there hadn’t been a war, or if there hadn’t been Huntington’s, if there hadn’t been dah, dah, dah — he would’ve done all this. He would’ve done all this. And my job has just been to make up for lost time. And finally I’ll just say, the way I work with the archives now, is I can be very in the moment with the material because I know a lot of material pretty well in my head right now. And just as an example, when Congress held the hearings with the bankers? Remember they all flew in? The bankers and they did their thing in front of Congress? And it was just like stunning, just stunning, how do you respond to a thing like that with these bankers explaining calmly what they did and why it’s all good [background noise] and these things happen, it’s capitalism you know. And I was freaking out and Woody had written a song called “Jolly Banker.” [laughter] And when you look at the words it basically described that scene. And I waited a couple of days because it was such a — such a shocking sight, that I was sure someone was going to jump up and create the next great banker song, you know — or something like that. And I waited and I waited and by the third day I just couldn’t stand it anymore and I called Wilco and they were in the studio that night and I said, “I need the song tomorrow. Tomorrow — here’s the words, record it and it’s going out tomorrow.” And they did it. It went out on the internet, and suddenly Wilco was being interviewed on Money Market Watch [laughter]. I love it, I love it. They should be asking people like Wilco on Market Watch and what they think about the economy instead of asking just economists. They should be asking all of us to put in our two cents about this. And when I have Woody’s lyrics it’s a way for me to put in my two cents. I found another lyric that I just recorded with Tom Morello called “Ease My Revolutionary Mind.” And it’s also on that “Note of Hope” album with Rob Wasserman. And it’s just one of those screaming songs like this guy is a young pissed rebel — he’s just so like, “Grr, I hate Republicans, I hate Democrats, I hate …” [ Laughter] He’s going on and on and on, and it’s, the chorus of the song says, “I need a progressive woman to ease my revolutionary mind.” [Background laughter] Now I have felt that way for 10 years, personally, I’m like somebody calm me down. Just calm me down. I went through the last president and going through what we’re going through now – sometimes — I don’t know if any of you I’m like sweating at night, I’m rolling back and forth like, “Ah, this is killing me, I need a progressive man, [laugh] to calm me down.” And so here is this wonderful lyric that he had written about progressive and he goes, “I need a liberal hearted woman. I need a socially progressive mama.” And again it’s sexy it’s juicy, you can dance to it. And it’s all about what we’re going through now. And again I had waited a day or two to, is anyone else going to do this? If not I’m calling Tom Morello tomorrow. I need a song. So it’s given me the opportunity to participate [laugh] as a citizen in a way, to put things out there and to put ideas out there. How come there are no pop tunes with the words “liberal woman” in it? I just, I really don’t understand it. I don’t understand it. Why aren’t people writing songs using those words? Liberal, progressive — I mean you don’t have to if you don’t believe that, but if you do believe it why aren’t we hearing songs like that? So I kind of sometimes use Woody as a — you know, as something to get something going, in a way. And it also reminds the song writers that they have the freedom to use any language they want in their material. And you don’t have to be an underground punk rock group with, you know, to use words like that. Wonderful ordinary citizens who have nine to five jobs and some work in banks and some are doctors and lawyers; they would like those songs too. It’s not all about being off the radar or down under some place. So that’s one of the reasons I try to time it with the news someday where I just hear something and I just pull out a lyric like this song has to happen right now. So that’s what I’ve been doing the last 20 years. [Background laughter] Any questions?
^M00:56:15 [ Applause and Laughter ]
^M00:56:30 >> Nora Guthrie: So if anyone has any questions I think we have a few minutes. Yes?
>> Female Speaker: I’d like to ask about Peggy Seeger, Pete Seeger’s sister, how come she didn’t come around? Or did she come around? And…
>> Nora Guthrie: I don’t know. She’s asking why Peggy Seeger didn’t come around. Maybe she did come around and I was out dancing in the street. [Inaudible] She was in England then yeah. Yeah. Yes? >> Female Speaker: I want to ask you about the Red Scare. I heard studio 360 and they talked a lot about how — for a while Woody was considered to be a communist, did that effect you when you were growing up?
>> Nora Guthrie: Yeah, the question was, the Red Scare — did that affect our family life at all? A couple of answers to that. No because he was in the hospital. The FBI did keep files on him while he was in the hospital watching who was coming and going and then the final report said, “He’s so sick we don’t think he’s dangerous.” [Chuckle] But the other side of it was that we — we did attend progressive schools. We went to a little school in Brooklyn called Brooklyn Community Woodward School. And for any of you who might know the name Margo Mayo, she was a square dance instructor, a musicologist. And she was the music teacher in this little tiny little school in Brooklyn and it was ethnically diverse. You know it was — everybody went to this school. It was progressive politically. A lot of the teachers had been black-listed. Let’s put it this way. All the schools I went to, the teachers were black-listed and couldn’t teach anywhere else. So I had a very good education [laughter and applause]. So that affected us too because really the teachings, the high school that I went to, a number of really interesting people came out of that school. It was Elizabeth Irwin, which was the high school of the little red school house on Bleaker Street. Toshi Seeger actually went to the little red school house. So our lineage relationship with these schools go back a long time. And Angela Davis was in the school, the Rosenberg children were in my school, the Mississippi — you know — Andrew, The Three — yeah Chaney — yeah…
>> Female voice: Mary Travers
>> Nora Guthrie: …went to my — went to my school. Mary Travers went to my school. So it was — Earl Robinson was the music teacher at the high school. Speaking of Earl, I’ll just tell you one funny story — another place you’ll find Woody Guthrie you would never expect but there’s going to be a quiz — there’s going to be a Trivial Pursuit question quiz after this. The least — the place you least expect for Woody to make an appearance on Broadway through Yip Harburg. Yip had just done the Wizard of Oz –came to New York with Harold Arlen and were being black-listed, [background cough] they were on the list of suspected communists and Harold Arlen — they came to New York to create a new musical together. Harold Arlen decided it was a little too scary and went back to Hollywood to do another musical there. Yip stayed in New York and through Earl Robinson that’s what made me think of this, he was also a black-listed composer from the West Coast. [Background coughing] They were all working in New York — introduced him to Woody and they started working together and Yip wrote “Finian’s Rainbow.” And the character of the father in “Finian’s Rainbow”…
>> [ inaudible male voice ]
>> Nora Guthrie: Exactly, could you say that a little bit louder please [laughter]?
>> [ inaudible male voice ] ^M01:00:30
>> Nora Guthrie: Right, right, sorry — the romantic guy is Woody — there’s a character, Woody. And the opening sequence I believe was done by Sonny Terry? Does anybody know that for sure? Sonny Terry played the opening harmonica from the musical and Pearl Lang who was with the Graham Company — again this circle of people that were my father’s friends — did the opening dance sequence. So “Finian’s Rainbow” is just chocked full of my aunts and uncles, and friends like that, and characters. So they corresponded and et cetera. But that’s another lecture — Woody Guthrie on Broadway. [Background laughter] Anyway any other questions before we just…
>> Female Speaker: Were you ever afraid of new artist’s take on Woody’s songs like cloudy or overshadowing who he actually was?
>> Nora Guthrie: I’m not really afraid of much [background laughter] just in general. I think that I do my research, I do my homework. Once I decide to work with an artist, I’m — it’s yours. I don’t look over your shoulder, I don’t edit, I don’t cut. If I’ve done my homework and I feel like this is someone who’s really talented, then who am I to say, “The phrase is too long, don’t cut that word.” I mean you’ve got to make the song work and some artists have just found that the lyric just works perfectly as it is. Some have done it as punk rock tunes, some have done it as jazz tunes, some have done it with acoustic instruments, [background coughing] with accordions. That’s my homework is to make sure that the person I’m working with I trust. And not trust to do what I want them to do, trust that they’re going to be creative. And my job is to give them the freedom to be creative. The first thing I do is I say, “Look Woody eye to eye. Do not look up at him, it’ll stink, it’ll be horrible if you look up at him. You’ve got to work with him like Rodgers and Hart, you know, like Gilbert and Sullivan, like Ira and George. You’ve got to work together it’s a collaboration and you have the right to say that the lyricist, there’s too many words in that I can’t sing it at that clip.” As I imagine that George probably said to Ira once in a while. “You got too many words in that cut it down.” So you know what I mean? You have to really trust the creative processes, and trust the artist you’re working with. They don’t all come out the way I would’ve imagined them but, hey, who am I?
^M01:03:11 [ Inaudible comment ]
>> Nora Guthrie: Yeah. Yep. Okay. I’m just going to get you, and then you, and then they’re going to kick me out. Yeah I’m sorry yes.
>> Female speaker: I wanted to know, a couple of years ago someone gave me a copy of that… >> Nora Guthrie: Artworks.
^M01:03:37 [ Inaudible female voice ]
>> Nora Guthrie: She’s asking about Woody’s artwork? Woody started out life as painter, as a sign painter and illustrator, when he was living in Pampa, Texas. And that was the first real job of work that he had in his life and song writing was something he did on a — like a garage band. Him and he’s guys and he’s friends they just kind of wrote songs on the side, but he really started out as an illustrator — doing illustration and art work. There’s not a lot that has survived from that period of time. He did a lot of oil paintings in particular. And only I think two have survived that time. And then he decided for financial reasons, purely financial reasons that he would write songs instead. and the reason being he said when you do a painting you sell it once and then hangs on the wall for 40 years. When you do a song every time you sing it they pay you. It was purely financial and he said, “I can sing it” and they’d say hey, you got another one? Here’s another nickel or another beer. Now this was 1935, when people needed money. So I don’t want you to think that in the present day that I’m saying that — this is in 1935 in Dust Bowl Pampa, Texas. That’s how he made a living and that’s how he made a living going cross country at saloon and bars. He was very quick witted, so he could easily make up a song if any of you asked him right now, write a song about sitting here in Library of Congress, he could do it in five seconds. And you’d like that and you’d throw him a nickel. And that’s — that’s how he worked his way across the country a lot of times when he travelled, but it started with art. And just to answer your question it’s not a lot has survived that’s in the Smithsonian Folkways Collection. He always enjoyed illustrating his own recordings and I don’t know if you can see this here but there’s a lyric Jesus Christ that’s on the bottom. Woody often painted a lyric as the final thing that he did. He would write a song and when he was happy with it he would paint on top of it. And if you pardon the expression, it’s kind of like a dog peeing on the tree and said, “This is [background noise] mine.” It was a way of him really saying, “This is my song I finished it I like it.” And he would paint it. I think the song is on the bottom there “Jesus Christ” — yeah you can see. Anybody else? Yeah.
^M01:06:25 [ Inaudible question ] ^M01:06:41
>> Nora Guthrie: Absolutely.
^M01:06:44 [ Inaudible comment ]
>> Nora Guthrie: Well it’s really sweet because I — I was talking on Jeff Brown on PBS this morning about something. He was like, “Where’s Woody now?” And I said when we recorded “Revolutionary Mind” with Tom Morello [background noise] I said that’s like the love song of the occupiers. I said, “Just think these kids sitting in tents right now, kissing, in Zuccotti Park. They’re kissing these kids, they’re holding hands, they’re dating. They’re grooving around finding each other, they’re falling in love in this movement. It’s not purely political it’s juicy. It’s life, it’s bigger than that. It’s not about an — just an agenda. The 99% is about a rich full life and that includes –” that’s what I said so “Revolutionary Mind,” it’s like this is the occupy love song. [ Laugh] And I know there’s other songs being created constantly. I think, for me, we’re talking about distribution and that’s a really big issue. And I am an idiot when it — I got lost. I don’t have a cell phone. I have — this is not, that’s not my turf. And I feel like, if I could just come up with ideas and then work people can distribute them and I think the distribution what you’re talking about is going to be one of the hottest things going in the next couple of years. Because I — when I say things like that, that I wasn’t hearing the songs, I am totally main stream. I work nine to five, I come home, I turn on the news, and I — I don’t have the time, I’m not an investigator. I live in a community we all get up, we all got to work, we’re teachers we’re this, they come home we make dinner, then we do laundry and we sit and we watch the news for an hour. That’s life, that’s life — so how to distribute music so that it reaches this — my — this community? The working people, you know. That’s [chuckle] I’m handing that one over to you and then we’ll know much more about what’s going on. Of course I know because I, people get in touch with me on the telephone all the time, that are working with social protest, et cetera. Thank you. Anyway that’s it.
^M01:09:13 [ Applause ]
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