Saturday, July 14, 2012

Woody Guthrie's Centennial

It seems like I've always known the words to Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."

But I have concluded that I must have learned them in school, in music class, which sounds like much more than it really was. It was nothing more than the occasional visit from a woman who played the piano and led the pupils in songs, one of which was "This Land Is Your Land."

I presume the woman was an employee of the school district who went around to the various schools. She wasn't a constant member of any school's faculty. She was never at our school long enough to learn any of our names.

In fact, I don't remember her name now.

But I still remember some of the verses of "This Land Is Your Land." And, for that, I will always be thankful to that music teacher, whoever she was.

Patriotic songs were staples of that music class, as I recall. We sang songs like "God Bless America" in that class — never once thinking about anyone who might be in our midst who had religious issues with the song and whose rights we might be trampling.

I guess it was taken for granted that we were all God–fearing Americans, even at tender ages like 6 or 7 or 8. That was sort of the way the adults in my hometown looked at things.

Funny thing was, Guthrie was a communist. Well, not exactly. Guthrie claimed that "the best thing that I did in 1936 was to sign up with the Communist Party," but he wasn't actually a member of the party.

He did sympathize with its platform, though, and he wrote a column for the communist newspaper, The Daily Worker. I guess he would more correctly be called a fellow traveler — he had kind of a parallel relationship with the communists without actually being one.

Well, I suppose that is another subject for another time.

Today marks a century since Woody Guthrie was born, and, no matter what one might think of his politics, it's as impossible not to think of him when you hear "This Land Is Your Land" as it is not to think of his son when you hear "Alice's Restaurant."

He was a troubadour of the American experience in the first half of the 20th century. He's been gone nearly 50 years ... and he is still missed.