State Hospital to see the ailing Guthrie, he told his friends that he was going to see “the greatest holiest godliest one in the world—a genius, genius, genius, genius.” Were it not for Guthrie, the world may never have heard one of the most famous protest tunes of the Vietnam War. The imagery of “Blowin’ in the Wind” was inspired by a passage in Guthrie’s autobiography in which he compared his political message to a newspaper blowing through the alleys of New York. Dylan visited his idol many times during the last years of his life. Confined to the Brooklyn State Hospital because of Huntington’s, Guthrie would vacillate between lucidity and madness in which he would scream at Dylan for hours on end. But Dylan’s affection for his mentor never diminished, and during this time Dylan wrote “Song For Woody.” The tune, taken from Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre,” deals with a disaster in which 59 striking mine workers and children were trampled to death when an anti-union thug falsely yelled “fire” in a crowded hall. In one of
his earliest songs, the young Dylan paid homage to a seminal voice of American folk music:
Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie I wrote you a song
About a funny old world that’s coming along.
Seems sick and it’s hungry, it’s tired and it’s torn
It looks like it’s dying and it’s hardly been born.
Hey, Woody Guthrie, but I know that you know
All the things that I’m saying and a many times more.
I’m singing you the song but I can’t sing enough
‘Cause there’s not many men that’ve done the things that you’ve done.
Jenna Clark Embrey is a second-year dramaturgy student at the A.R.T./Moscow Art Theater Institute School for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University.
HOMEMADE MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
When we think of instruments, we think of guitars, pianos, violins…but what about spoons, washboards, or empty bottles? American folk music boasts a rich tradition of homemade musical instruments, crafted from everyday household objects repurposed in surprising ways. To join in the fun, here are a few easy suggestions:
GUITAR What You Need:
1 empty tissue box 1 paper towel roll 1 straw Rubber bands of different sizes
Cut 1” slits in one end of the paper towel roll, and bend the cardboard outwards—it should look like a flower. Then wrap the rubber bands around the tissue box so they lie over the top of the box opening. Cut the straw to fit, and slide it under the rubber bands just above the box opening (this is your “fret”). Finally, secure the neck by sliding the cut end under the rubber bands at the top of the box. You can tape it as well if it’s still moving too much. Happy strumming!
HARMONICA What You Need:
1 comb Small piece of wax or tissue paper
WOODY AND WIFE MARY, WITH CHILDREN GWEN, SUE, AND BILL, 1941.
Cut the paper so it’s the same length as the comb, and fold it over the teeth of the comb, wax side in. Then put the comb to your lips and start humming, and voilá—you’re an instant folk musician.
artists have shown a renewed interest in American roots music since the late 1990s and, in some cases, have drawn directly from Woody’s work. In 1998, the alt-country group Wilco teamed up with the English musician Billy Bragg to create an album structured entirely around Woody’s unused lyrics. In a project organized by Woody’s daughter Nora, the band examined Woody’s lyrical archive— he’d written over a thousand complete sets of lyrics which he’d never set to music—and crafted new songs around selected lyrics. The resulting album, Mermaid Avenue, was released to widespread critical acclaim, demonstrating Woody’s continued
relevance and vitality even thirty years after his death. From traditional folk artists to undisputed giants of American music to bands barely twenty years old, Woody Guthrie’s work has resonated powerfully since he first picked up a guitar. His acoustic guitar sound, traditional melodies, and political awareness have influenced the work of several generations of musicians, and American music owes a great deal of its character to his songwriting.
Eli Keehn is the A.R.T. Dramaturgy Intern.
DRUM What You Need:
1 cylindrical container (a big oatmeal can or coffee can, for example) Electrical tape 2 pencils
Take off the lid of your container. Criss-cross strips of electrical tape (or masking tape) across the top of the can until it’s completely covered— this is your drumhead. If you want to decorate your drum, measure and cut construction paper so it’ll fit around the outside of the drum, and then tape it in place. Use pencils as your drumsticks.
Bring your homemade instruments with you to Woody Sez and join the post-show hootenanny!
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