Let’s Hear It From Woody!

Born in 1912 in Okema, OK, this is the Centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth.

It is uncanny to view the Guthrie tribute video on Democracy Now [http://t.co/SN3E1S3P] and recognize how very much like the 1930s our present experience is. In 1940, Woody was nauseated by Kate Smith’s ‘God Bless America.’ Irving Berlin may well have meant the song to be a kind of hopeful ballad of an immigrant Jew, but Woody saw it for the jingoistic anthem that it became and still is. That year he penned ‘This Land Is Your Land’ in response to the American exceptionalism expressed in the Berlin-authored anthem. Thus it was no accident that Woody’s anthem was featured at the last Obama inauguration. We can only hope that this next year’s second term event has a similar theme.

We are in a 21st Century McCarthyism again. History does indeed repeat itself, or at least keeps coming around in frighteningly similar guises. If ever a left that knows the lyrics of Woody by heart were needed, it is now. Woody showed little interest in or respect for family values; he did pretty much abandon his family when he went to New York 1940, but his real vocation wasn’t fatherhood, it was his populist poetry.

Prophets do not have to be good at everything. I don’t remember ever reading anything about Jeremiah or Isaiah or Hosea’s family life being exemplary. Well, Isaiah did give his kids weird names and Hosea did show a remarkable tolerance for betrayal, but other than the latter’s patience with Gomer, I see little in the Judeo-Christian tradition that makes the GOP ‘family values’ facade have much to recommend it.

In the 30s, the leading poets, novelists were, in no small number, Communists. That kind of radicalism won’t win many followers today, but it is well past time for those of us who have thought of ourselves as liberals to jettison all semblance of politeness, political correctness, propriety and some nostalgic allegiance to a two-party system and think outside the box. Real change has never been the option of the underclass and oppressed, it is us the bourgeois who have the time and substance for revolution.

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November 23, 2012 · 6:15 pm

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