Yesterday was Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday. The fact that his body left us in 1967 seems almost irrelevant given the immense shadow that his music casts on our consciousness (and conscience) today. His job, he said, was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Man, we could use a little bit more of that these days.
Woody’s genius was his ability to make serious ideas seem simple–but he didn’t simplify them, he just made them make sense. You could say he just cut through the bullshit. Part of his appeal was that his rhythms were so deceptively simple (and catchy), often direct borrowings from old Appalachian standards, but his lyrics…well, they changed the game for everyone thereafter. Just ask Bob Dylan.
Nancy Griffith used to tell a story about the time her father took her to see Townes Van Zandt perform. He wanted her to see “the best songwriter in Texas! He’d be the best in the world, but Woody Guthrie is from Oklahoma.”