Woody Guthrie ranks as an essential American songwriter. His songs such as “This Land Is Your Land”, “Pastures of Plenty”, “Jesus Christ”, “The Biggest Thing Man Has Ever Done”, “Pretty Boy Floyd”, “Deportee”, “Talkin Dust Bowl Blues”, “Do Re Mi” and many others earned him well-deserved respect.
However, Guthrie was also a writer. He wrote for a couple of newspapers at certain points, but his book Bound for Glory stands as a masterpiece. It’s symbolic a young Bob Dylan visited Guthrie in the hospital, and played those dustbowl ballads as Guthrie faded on his deathbed.
Guthrie’s storytelling speaks to and for the common people—“you and me”. Pete Seeger’s introduction to Bound for Glory nails it: “His music stayed rooted in the blues, ballads and breakdowns he’d been raised on in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. Like Scotland’s Robert Burns and the Ukraine’s Texas Shevchenko, Woody was a national folk poet. Like them, he came of a small-town background, knew poverty, had a burning curiosity to learn. Like them, his talent brought him to the city, where he was lionized by the literati but from whom he declared his independence and remained his own profane, radical, ornery self…”
Bound for Glory weaves Guthrie’s stories about soldiers, cans of snuff, hopping trains, singing songs, fascinating strangers, government victims, nameless heroes, poor farmers, starving families and even political messages like:
“Why do your warships sail on my waters?
Why do your bombs drop from the sky?
Why do you burn my towns and cities?
I want to know why…”
Do yourself a favor—put Bound for Glory on your reading list.