Having lived through some of the most significant historic movements and events of the Twentieth-Century –the Great Depression, the Great Dust Storm, World War II, the social and the political upheavals resulting from Unionism, the Communist Party and the Cold War– Woody absorbed it all to become a prolific writer whose songs, ballads, prose and poetry captured the plight of everyman. While traveling throughout the American landscape during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, Woody’s observations of what he saw and experienced has left for us a lasting and sometimes haunting legacy of images, sounds, and voices of the marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed people with whom he struggled to survive despite all odds. Although the corpus of original Woody Guthrie songs, or as Woody preferred “people’s songs” are, perhaps, his most recognized contribution to American culture, the stinging honesty, humor, and wit found even in his most vernacular prose writings exhibit Woody’s fervent belief in social, political, and spiritual justice.
“There’s a feeling in music and it carries you back down the road you have traveled and makes you travel it again. Sometimes when I hear music I think back over my days – and a feeling that is fifty-fifty joy and pain swells like clouds taking all kinds of shapes in my mind.”
“Music is in all the sounds of nature and there never was a sound that was not music – the splash of an alligator, the rain dripping on dry leaves, the whistle of a train, a long and lonesome train whistling down, a truck horn blowing at a street corner speaker – kids squawling along the streets – the silent wail of wind and sky caressing the breasts of the desert. Life is this sound, and since creation has been a song. And there is no real trick of creating words to set to music, once you realize that the word is the music and the people are the song.”
“Woody is just Woody. Thousands of people do not know he has any other name. He is just a voice and a guitar. He sings the songs of a people and I suspect that he is, in a way, that people. Harsh voiced and nasal, his guitar hanging like a tire iron on a rusty rim, there is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who still listen. There is the will of a people to endure and fight against oppression. I think we call this the American spirit.”
“The note of hope is the only note that can help us or save us from falling to the bottom of the heap of evolution, because, largely, about all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine.”
In his lifetime, Woody Guthrie wrote nearly 3,000 song lyrics, published two novels, created artworks, authored numerous published and unpublished manuscripts, poems, prose, and plays and hundreds of letters and news article which are housed in the Woody Guthrie Archives in New York City. Musicians from a variety of backgrounds such as Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, Wilco, Ani DiFranco, The Klezmatics, Hans-Eckhardt Wenzel, and countless others, continue to draw inspiration from Woody Guthrie, re-interpreting and re-invigorating his songs for new audiences. His influence is felt throughout the world, from Native American musicians such as Keith Secola and Blackfire to Chinese Punk rockers PK14 and Danish musician Esben.