Letters from Woodie Guthrie to Alan Lomax on September 25, 1940 reveal many insights into the personal beliefs and character of Woodie Guthrie and help shed light into his music and philosophy behind it. As direct writing from the composer itself, it provides the least biased source available and gives Woodie Guthrie’s exact words, and a helpful context for them. Woodie Guthrie’s conviction of using music as politics can be seen in his writings here. He states that “if you see something thats wrong and needs to be fixed, and you get up and tell it just how you feel, that makes you a showman.”
He writes later that, “you cant entertain nobody unless you can do two things be yourself and forget yourself and imagine you’re helping everybody, cuss the ones that don’t like.” you, by what you do.”
His somewhat cynical view of politics comes out in another letter to the same recipient written a couple of months later. He writes that, “I am writing this [letter] on Christmas paper and I think all election speeches ought to be wrapped in gift boxes with a red and green string tied around them, and that a way we would be sure at least of a Christmas package whether there was anything in it or not.” He desires to fix things and make the world a better place and states that his purpose in voting is to fix things, “and if I dont fix it by a voting one way, I’ll vote another way, and finally, I’ll find out the right way.”
These letters of Woodie Guthrie help shed light on his passion, philosophy, and music. And as primary source material, as well as Guthrie’s own words, they can be relied on quite strongly to gain insight into Guthrie’s understanding of his life and musical career.
That’s really fascinating! I had no idea – I’ll have to look it up and see!
Hey Christopher! This is a really cool post and definitely sheds light on what Woody was like as a person. On a whim, I searched “Woody Guthrie letters” on Google and one of the first results was that he wrote a letter to John Cage and Alan Hovaness, both prolific 20th century American composers. The link is here: http://www.ideologic.org/news/view/woody_guthrie_s_fan_letter_to_john_cage
It is really interesting to see that Guthrie seemed to also enjoy the avant-garde classical music of 1947 even though he himself was involved in folk music. I wonder how much of a connection these composers had with Guthrie and if they ever met in person. Thanks for sharing these letters with us!