The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #138471   Message #3190882
Posted By: BrooklynJay
19-Jul-11 - 03:36 PM
Thread Name: 'Woody Guthrie, American Radical'
Subject: RE: 'Woody Guthrie, American Radical'
GUEST, Alvin Toffler (the Alvin Toffler?), you've pretty much hit the nail on the head, as I see it.

I finished the book a couple of weeks ago, and now I've begun my second read-through. (I'm quirky that way.)

I would say that both books (Cray and Klein) should be mandatory reading before one gets to Kaufman. Together, the two biographies interlock (though there is some contradictory material) and present a good picture of Guthrie - a picture that is severely limited by the specialized scope of Will Kaufman's book. IMO, Guthrie's personal life is skirted over too much. Now, granted, Kaufman is not setting out to write another Guthrie biography, but it's almost like he assumes you've already read Klein and Cray and know all the "backstory."

As an aside, I also think that the book of Woody's writings, "Pastures of Plenty," would merit inclusion on the "must read" list, though you might have to look to the Internet for a copy. (I found a very inexpense one, recently, on eBay.)

Off the top of my head, I have a few other minor quibbles:

It seems to me pretty conclusive, especially after reading Cray, that the death of Woody's older sister Clara was an act of self-immolation. Yet Kaufman refers to Clara as having died in a "house fire."

Kaufman can't seem to decide whether to refer to Alan Lomax's sister as Bess Lomax or Bess Hawes. No big deal, but unless you already know the cast of characters, it mught be a little confusing.

In the Notes, Kaufman claims Country Joe McDonald was the first one to put a melody (in 1975) to Woody's "Woman At Home." However, the lyrics (a much longer, rambling version) and a melody were published in 1963 in the book "Woody Guthrie Folk Songs." (I'm assuming we're talking about the same song; correct me if I'm mistaken.)

Again, the book glosses over too much of Woody's personal life.

Where the book truly excels is in giving us the previously unpublished writings. We really feel like we're hearing the man himself. The unpublished lyrics, and alternate versions of well-known Guthrie songs are fascinating. My one complaint: I wish that the lyrics could have been the full versions of what he wrote, not just excerpts. The snippets leave us wanting more, much more.

With it all, I'm still looking forward to my second reading of this book.