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The Woody Guthrie Thread

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Lonesome EJ 19 Jul 99 - 12:18 AM
Sourdough 19 Jul 99 - 04:10 AM
Night Owl 19 Jul 99 - 04:31 AM
Sourdough 19 Jul 99 - 04:41 AM
The Shambles 19 Jul 99 - 06:05 AM
Art Thieme 19 Jul 99 - 12:21 PM
Doctor John 19 Jul 99 - 01:32 PM
Lonesome EJ 30 Aug 99 - 05:27 PM
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Subject: The Woody Guthrie Thread
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 12:18 AM

I had an idea of integrating some different talents of Mudcatters in a thread that would pay homage to one of our heroes, let us discuss his or her contributions to the music, and let the creative writers among us play. Here's the concept- since we just celebrated Woody Guthrie's Birthday, how about a thread dedicated to him? If you have a memory of Woody, some lyrics to a Woody song, or if you want to recount an incident in his life, or create a fictional vignette that features Woody, or even a poem or fictional story that summons his spirit and good energy, post it here.


The people were bone tired, and their truck was low on gas when they saw the campfire down in some sage bushes and Maple trees along the creek. The man pulled the pickup over and turned to his wife."Let me check it out first." The door squeaked on it's hinges, waking up the two kids who were slumped against their Mother."Where are we, Momma?" said a small voice, thick with the drawl of West Texas. She only patted his shoulder and shooshed him.

Silhouetted against the glow of the fire were two men. One, heavy set, stood looking toward the man. The other crouched by the fire, pushing a battered coffee pot onto the coals with a stick."Howdy," said the man. The two by the fire were silent a second, then one said "How do? Can we do somethin for ya, stranger?" The man shuffled uncertainly."We're travelin, me n' my wife. Thought we'd just camp down the river a ways. Thought I'd say howdy first." The thin man stood upright, dusting the knees of his coveralls off, then strode up to the man." Y'all eat yet?" said the lanky man, now standing close enough for the man to see his big smile."We got some coffee, butter beans and bread. Heck stay for dinner! That okay with you, Huddie?" The other man approached, a large, husky black man. The stranger saw that he held a battered guitar."You bet," said the black man." You bring your wife and kids down, camp with us. We just workin folk doin some travelin ourselves."

The lanky man turned to the boy, sitting on the bank of the stream."You wanna try?" He held the hickory fish-pole over to the boy."Cause I ain't doin no good." The boy took the pole. Behind them, the muffled voices of the others drifted from the camp, along with the clink of an iron skillet, the crack of a branch broken for the fire." Gather round me children, a story I will tell." The man said very softly, then softly sang "bout Pretty Boy Floyd the Outlaw, Oklahoma knew him well..."The boy smiled. "I heard that one before. Where'd you learn it?" The man laughed a little." I made it up. Hey, your gettin a bite." The boy jerked the line."Easy!" said the man, but the catfish was on good, and the boy brought him in."Hot dog! Fish for breakfast!" said the skinny fellow as the walked back to the fire."Did you really?" said the boy. "Did I what, son?" The boy looked up at the gaunt stranger with the friendly blue eyes and dusty dark hair curled on his forehead."Really make up that Pretty Boy Floyd song?" The man laughed and put his big hand on the boy's shoulder."You bet, son. You bet I did."

After dinner, the boy and his sister drifted off to sleep to the sound of the grown folks talking by the fire. The boy woke up sometime later, the 3/4 moon shining on his face. He thought at first the music was part of a dream, the dream where his family had come at last to that green valley that his Dad was always talking about. In the middle of the valley was a house, their house, the house they had lost to the dust in Comanche County. But then he remembered the road, and the camp by the river, and he knew that the song was sung quietly by the two strangers as they sat by the dying campfire coals. He had never heard the song before, but he knew he would never forget it.

This land is your land
This land is my land
From California
to the New York Island
From the Redwood forest
to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

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Subject: RE: The Woody Guthrie Thread
From: Sourdough
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 04:10 AM

I couldn't resist adding to this thread. My memory isn't of Woody or of Arlo. It is of an extraordinary woman named Marjorie Guthrie who'd been married to Woody.. I have her picture here in front of me as I write. I went out to the home in Howard Beach they'd shared. There was a young guy there, probably about eighteen maybe a bit younger. He was a breathless admirer of Woody Guthrie and he carried a harmonica with him wherever he went. He reminded me of how Bob Zimmerman must have hung around there absorbed whatever he could in the way of atmosphere and stories to help him understand Woody Guthrie.

Me? I was there to learn more about Marjorie Guthrie's activities organizing and running the Committee to Combat Huntington's Disease. Huntington's is a particularly cruel genetic illness that eventualy destroyed Woody.

Marjorie been a dancer with Martha Graham and now decades later, her hair white and her face lined with experience, she still had a tiny dancer's waist and the poise of both a dancer and a lady.

As we talked, she said I might be interested to know that the stool I was sitting on was where Woody liked to sit when he wrote. I was somehow touching Woody Guthrie but not exactly how I would have pictured the event.

We talked a lot about Huntington's Chorea. At that time, her children were still facing the possibilty of discovering they had this vicious disease that doesn't strike until the childbearing years when the diagnosis means not only slow death, it means your children, when they reach their thirties, will have a chance of having the disease. That is part of its particular cruelty.

She told me about how Woody was often mistakenly judged as having been drunk when it was just the early stages of his disease. At first he would get out of the hospital on weekends and spend a couple of days at home but eventually he needed full time hospitalization., He was moved to I think it was Brooklyn Downstate. I gather that he was placed in a mental ward, probably because they didn't know anythng about his disease. Anyway, he was surrounded by some very strange patients. Part of her motivation for having founded the CCHD was to teach physicians how to diagnose the disease so that others would not have to suffer the indignities Woody had.

Not only didn't the doctors know anything about Huntington's, the doctors there didn't know anything about Woody Guthrie. They just saw a scrawny, rather strange looking guy with a very odd disease. Ironically, this man of wonderful words had lost his power of fluent speech. In a painful letter by letter, word by word, communication, he'd told the doctors and nurses at his new hospital that he was a celebrity. He had been chosen by FDR to help publicize the Columbia River public works projects, he'd had network radio shows, he'd even written an autobiography. His pride demanded that they recognize him for what he had accomplished. He asked Marjorie to bring a copy of "Bound For Glory" the next time she visited him.

This conversation with Marjrie Guthrie was in the context of my having asked her about the hospital scene in Alice's Restaurant. I asked if that had been the way it had been. Marjorie thought for a moment about how best to phrase her answer and then said with great love for everyone involved, "That was Arlo's movie and that's the way he told the story. When I make my movie, it will tell it the way I saw it."

Telling me this story, she was telling me about her own and Woody's experience at Brooklyn DOwnstate, how different it had been from her son, Arlo's experience during this time. As Woody had asked, she brought in a copy of his autobiography and left it with him. The next weekend when she came back she asked, "Woody, did you give the doctor the book?"

Woody indicated that he had not.

"Why not? You wanted me to bring it in so you could give it to him."

Woody, by gesture, and one sylable at a time, he managed to point to the patient in the next bed and communicate, "He ate it."

Marjorie made her point, "That's the sort of place it was."

For the last years of her life, Marjorie Guthrie devoted herself to the cause of making life better for the people with Huntington's Disease and their families. It speaks really well for Woody Guthrie that he had enough sense to find, court, and marry such a remarkable and lovely woman.


I just remembered that I recorded one of our conversations. I'm having a garage sale this weekend. Maybe when I go into the locker, I'll find the recording.

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Subject: RE: The Woody Guthrie Thread
From: Night Owl
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 04:31 AM

Sourdough, what a lucky person to have met her!!! Thank you for talking about it here...your story held me spellbound. Having worked with Huntington's patients through Hospice, I can tell you that her work to help the medical profession recognize and understand the disease, was NOT in vain!

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Subject: RE: The Woody Guthrie Thread
From: Sourdough
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 04:41 AM

Night Owl:

I am glad she is remembered. Some few people get to really make a difference in people's lives. It feels good to know that she is one of them.


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Subject: Lyr Add: Broken "Okie"^^
From: The Shambles
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 06:05 AM

Nice idea LEJ. With apologies to those who may be fed up with it, I'll will post this again here, as I feel this is a good place for it. This especially because of the references to the terrible condition, referred to above.

Broken 'Okie'

Live a life of 'Russian Roulette',

Running from that smoking gun.

To find the ones you leave behind you,

Ain't got nowhere to run.

. If life is a sad story,

Then his was too hard to bear.

If Woody's 'Bound For Glory',

I hope, we'll all meet him there.

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie,

And his 'Fascist Killing Machine'.

It's 'Hard Travelling', Woody,

Still following the dream

Just a broken 'Okie',

Who's rambling days are done.

Won't be riding no more freight trains,

But, 'Railroad Pete' travels on,

Pete's, a tough little critter,

The kind you'd seek out as a friend.

You can tell he ain't no quitter,

He'll see it through 'til' the end.

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie,

And his 'Fascist Killing Machine'.

It's 'Hard Travelling', Woody,

Still following the dream

Roger Gall

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Subject: RE: The Woody Guthrie Thread
From: Art Thieme
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 12:21 PM

Truly transporting views into other folks and times. Marjorie MC'd a benefit we did in Chicago for Sing Out a l-o-n-g time ago. Phil Ochs & Malvena Reynolds and many others. It was good to meet the lady herself.


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Subject: RE: The Woody Guthrie Thread
From: Doctor John
Date: 19 Jul 99 - 01:32 PM

What a wonderful thread. My wife (Gilly) is a genetic nurse who works with Huntingdon's patients and their families from time to time. There is some progress in that the gene has been identified and the possibility of drugs being developed which may delay the onset is looking feasible; progress is however slow - but steady. There are thousands of genetic diseases but some books on the subject name Woody when they refer to Huntingdon's which, if nothing else, give a marker to this tragic and dreadful condition. I mean a marker is needed so you don't turn the page on something that can't happen to me. I think the best tribute I've heard to Woody is Phil Ochs' "Bound for Glory" which doesn't mention Woody by name and is probably the more effective for that. Dr John

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Subject: RE: The Woody Guthrie Thread
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 05:27 PM

I thought I would bring this thread back up in the home of getting a recollection or two from Frank Hamilton...


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