“You throw a rock in water, and you watch the ripples,” Nora Guthrie said. “I see these people singing these songs, and I’m not responsible for what happens. Each of them sees Woody through their own eyes; no one really knows who Woody was or is. I love it when I see people like Springsteen and Morello or John Fogerty together with those songs, because it all comes together in the big picture.” Nora Guthrie
We are late to celebrate Woody Guthrie’s birthday, born on July 14, 1912, but we’d like to think of him for a moment. We know that Bruce is a fan of the Dust Bowl-era folk troubadour in many ways. Guthrie’s signature song “This Land Is Your Land” was performed live by Bruce for all the Eighties, and Bruce himself said that he had been directly inspired to record The Ghost of Tom Joad by Guthrie’s work. Plus, he played two songs in the Guthrie-Leadbelly tribute album Folkways: A Vision Shared, “I Ain’t Got No Home” and “Vigilante Man” (if you don’t have please check it, is a very good one, featuring artists such as Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Little Richard, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson and Pete Seeger, among many others).
Bruce also paid homage to the torbadour on his keynote address at the SXSW music industry festival in Texas, where he first conceded that he had no interest in becoming a resurrection of Woody Guthrie, who never had a hit record or a platinum disc. “I liked the luxuries and comforts of being a star,” he laughed. But after reading Joe Klein’s “Woody Guthrie: A Life” in his early 30s, the Boss felt he’d obtained a strategy for shaping the form he loved — rock music — into something that could address grown-up problems.
“I’ve first fallen for the stories — and the hard stoicism — of country music. But even as I was attracted to the fatalism of country artists like Hank Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis, I found something toxic about those singers’ resignation to cruel fate. I wanted an answer to the implicit question posed in Williams’ “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It”: why, I wondered, were hard times permanent for working men and women?”
and in Guthrie’s work, he found a way forward: “fatalism tempered by a practical idealism,” and a conviction that “speaking truth to power wasn’t futile.”.
“There was always some spiritual center amid Woody’s songs. He always projected a sense of good times in the face of it all. He always got you thinking about the next guy, he took you out of yourself. I guess his idea was salvation isn’t individual. Maybe we don’t rise and fall on our own.”