Obviously you know who Woody Guthrie is, right? (Legendary American singer-songwriter, folk musician of the 1900’s who’s guitar read “This Machine Kills Fascists”). Well as if his guitar wasn’t revolutionary enough here are four examples of just why we should all thank Woody for his contribution to life as we know it…
1) Firstly, his contribution to children’s music.
Yep, The Wiggles are great, love Justine Clark, Twinkle Twinkle and similar nursery rhyme classics will always have a place, but THANKYOU Woody Guthrie for producing children’s music for children AND grownups!!
Written and recorded in the 1940’s Woody was one of the first popluar male singers to provide music for our babies, composing and recording Songs to Grown On For Mother and Child and Work Songs To Grow On, both considered children’s classics and adding to his status of ‘Effing Legend’.
Woody’s ‘music therapist-esque’ approach was to write repetitive style songs that dealt with themes significant to children, and written in language used and understoon by children. These themes include friendship (Don’t you Push Me Down), family (Ship in the Sky), community (Howdja Do?), chores (Pick it UP), responsibility (Cleano) and fun (Riding in My Car).
As such these songs could and should be sourced and used by parents, educators, therapists and, well, basically anyone who sings with, or plays music to, children! The added bonus is that not only are they relevant, lacking the almost condescending nature of many children’s songs, but they are great to listen to and can roll on repeat for hours without Mum and Dad loosing the plot.
Little Saka Sugar – 1947
One Days Old – 1947
I’ll Eat You, I’ll Drink You – 1947 (my all time fave)
2) His ongoing drive for ‘What is Right’
Woody had a passion for justice. Having lived though majorly crazy historical events, (I’m talking the Great Depression, the Great Dust Storm, World War II, The aftermath of Unionism, the Communist Party and the Cold War to name a few) – he was determined to use his powers for good. Thus he became the driving force behind a musical collaboration called The Almanac Singers. Together these guys focused on social causes such as unions, anti-fascism, free speech, equal rights, peace, racial and environmental issues, and anything else they believed in, in the best way they could; Through songs of political protest and activism.
If there was a way of ever knowing how many positive and political changes have come about through the power of people and song I’m sure we would all be gobsmacked! Even the smallest of changes has the power to snowball in to huge shifts in collective thinking. And no one can deny the sense of inspiration and motivation gained from listening to the ‘right song’ – so THANKYOU Woody Guthrie for giving us the right songs!
This Land is Your Land – 1940
Better World A Comin’
3) The lessons we learnt from his tragic experience of Huntington’s Disease
During the late 1940’s, which was his early 40’s, Woody began presenting with erratic, moody and violent behaviours. He was wrongly accused of persistent drunkedness. Was picked on by police for wandering, his mumbled protestations of being famous believed to be hallucinations. Actually, he was displaying the initial signs of the degenerative, neurolgocal disease Huntington’s Chorea. During this time he was admitted to Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital and remained institutionalised while the diesase slowly robbed him of his health, his talents (despite this he continued to create) and, at the age of 55, his life itself.
During the 1950’s Huntington’s Disease was still a mystery to most and, though there is still no cure, this meant his condition went untreated and he was given no proper care by the institution. (Fascists!) His journey with this horrendous disease brought much awareness and new understanding to not only the medical profession but to the population at large. So THANKYOU Woody – for opening up eyes and avenues for improved health care.
I Ain’t Got no Home in This World Anymore – 1944
So Long It’s Been Good to Know You
4) Helping shape Bob Dylan into Bob Dylan
During his time at Greystone Park a teenage Bob Dylan routinely came to visit and care for Woody. With each visit he brought his guitar and sang to him – not Dylan songs – but Woody songs. In total ‘music therapy-esque’ style, in allowing him to hear his own work, Dylan potentially offered Woody experiences of validation, reminiscence, increased sense of self, quality of life, relaxation, cognitive stimulation, chronic pain management and acceptance. Would Dylan have been the same Dylan he is now without such a significant experience of care and resilience at such an impressionable age? Who knows!
So, just in case Woody… THANKYOU!
Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie – Bob Dylan, 1963
Unfortunately there is still no specific treatment or cure for Huntington’s Disease, a disease which takes the lives of far, far too many. For more information on Huntington’s Disease or to find out how you can donate to research you can access your relevant association via the following links..
New South Wales
South Australia and Northern Territory