He had a sign on his guitar that said This Machine Kills Fascists. He was a writer and a radio personality. Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg and many other great musicians have acknowledged his influence on their music.
Those are some of the new things I learned about Woody Guthrie when I attended the Winnipeg Fringe Festival show Woody Sed. Before hearing the very talented Thomas Jones take on the personas of almost twenty different characters from the music icon’s life I only knew Woody Guthrie was Arlo Guthrie’s father and that he had written the song This Land is Your Land.
From the excellent play Woody Sed I learned Woody had a tumultuous life. He inherited Huntington’s Disease from his mother and passed it on to two of his children. He lost a sister and a daughter in separate fires and his father was also injured in a fire. Due in part to his disease and his need to wander and try new things none of his three marriages lasted. He fought in World War II. He was often penniless and homeless and spent the last decade of his life in health care institutions.
Despite his troubled personal life Woody is considered one of the most significant figures in American folk music. A quote from Woody Guthrie that Thomas Jones repeated numerous times throughout his fringe show was “Take it easy but take it.” I am not sure in what context Woody said this, perhaps in a song he wrote, but to me it means ‘Don’t give in to fear and anxiety. Live life to the fullest.’