It’s Woody Guthrie’s World, and I’m Just Living in It

Woody GuthrieWoody Guthrie / James Ratcliffe / CC BY NC SA 2.0

This guest post comes from Anna Keneda, our resident music person.

I am writing a paper on the influence of music as a tool of cultural identity in immigrant communities (pretentious, right?), but it has made me reflect on how music has changed my perspective of who I am and the people I come from.

First off, I am from Oklahoma, the land of Garth Brookes; Mr. “we’ll put a boot in your ass ’cause it’s the American way” Toby Keith; and (most importantly) Woody Guthrie. I was lucky enough to have parents whose tastes lead me away from the musical gem that is Toby Keith (if you can’t already tell, he is the bane of my existence) and towards the original working man’s music of Woody. As a pre-schooler I memorized the little known third verse of “This Land is your Land” that says:

As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
And that sign said – no tresspassin’
But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

Those words have never really left me. I blame them for my distaste for corporations, my incessant need to go against what people try to shove down my throat, and for my dislike of signage in general. It is odd how something as simple as a song can impart so many values to a person. It might be because music is one of the few things that is tangible, but that touches some weird metaphysical part of a person. The far more likely reason is that songs are so damn catchy that they not only get trapped in our head, but also somewhere in the dark corners of our being, slowly smoothing out our rough edges.

Both the movie and the novel versions of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath were great, yes. But to me nothing provides such heartbreaking and witty commentary on my Great Grandma Pete’s life during the Oklahoma Dust Bowl as Guthrie’s song “Do Re Mi.” As I listen to these dust bowl ballads to get a glimpse of the circumstances that have shaped my family’s life I can’t help but wonder what songs will our generation leave to explain life in the 21st century?

I am not sure what I will do if some future great grandchild comes and asks me about the societal factors that created an artist like Justin Beiber (probably weep). So, I remain optimistic that someone will come and fill the storytelling void that people like Guthrie and Dylan have left for us and continue to pray it isn’t Bieber.

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