This land was made for you and me #woodyguthrie

“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.

Bruce Springsteen

Tolling for the aching ones

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It’s July 19th, 1988. Bruce is already a worldwide famous rockstar. He’s been asking for years to play in East Berlin, and finally they give him approval. He’s there with the E Street Band. The unmissable bootleg it’s called Behind the wall, and is not so astounding, as sound. But you don’t listen to this one for the audio; you hear out the emotions of that day. He opens the show with Badlands, not Tunnel of love, discarded even if it’s the tour album title track. He needs something more than a ride on a tunnel to love, to speak to this crowd.

You imagine the smiles of those kids in that evening, their yearning for freedom and desire to express themselves all compressed in one shout to the sky with their fist raised in the air: Born in the USA. Each person lost in the crowd, yet together. 180.000 people, probably more.  With that first shout, Bruce greets them. It’s good to be here, he says, and that he likes to imagine for them a future with no barriers, then starting Chimes of Freedom.

The Wall would fall one year later. I like to think that some of those kids gathered a little courage and strenght to fight for their freedom from this day too.