NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 3

Daughter of HOUSE OF EARTH author Woody Guthrie

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NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 3

Unread postby Liz » Mon Jun 10, 2013 11:07 pm

Fireflydances: Another question. What are your long term hopes for House of Earth? Do you think it’s something that’s going to be added to your father’s profile from this point forward? Will people in general think of him also as a novel writer?

Nora: Well I think for a large part he is already considered a writer because of Bound for Glory and some of the other books that have been published over the years of short stories and poetry and things like that. What I think has been happening, and I’ll say this over the last twenty years or so, as we find things, I personally keep discovering an aspect of my father that, honestly, I had no idea about. And I mean this absolutely literally.

So I didn’t know that he wrote 3000 lyrics until ten years ago when I actually sat and counted up, and part of the work of setting up the Woody Guthrie archives forced me into counting up the lyrics, or counting up the novels or counting up the poetry, etc. And I think what keeps happening over the last twenty years is that, as we keep discovering different aspects of his writings, different people come to the fold. It attracts different people into the fold.

For example, I did a project a number of years ago about Woody’s songs about Jewish culture and history. Now, would anyone ever associate Woody Guthrie writing or knowing anything about Jewish culture or history? Of course not. That becomes a piece of the pie, so to speak. So now I actually do hold public programs based on Woody’s ideas of Judaism and relationship to Judaism. And what that did was that it attracted Jewish scholars, people that are interested in Judaism and how Judaism is experienced through other people’s eyes, particularly a guy from Oklahoma, a Protestant from Oklahoma. (chuckles) So that’s what keeps happening with all these projects.

I think what this book will do, if I was an English teacher or an English student or English scholar of some kind, one aspect is to look at this, like you were saying earlier, as a piece of literature. I could analyze the writing forever, just talking about how he spells women differently and incorrectly, and did he do it intentionally? And when did this whole idea of cracking up, breaking down all the rules and regulations of writing? You could parallel it with hip hop, and how hip hop has transformed language. And we use words now that didn’t exist before because they have an emotional content that hip hop has created --this new language and new spelling. Not even to mention internet spelling and things like that.

So there’s lots of ways that you can look at this and investigate the novel, along with a lot of other literature of the time. Then Woody becomes part of that culture, in a way. For me it’s not about Woody did this, Woody did this, Woody did this. (chuckles) I always see that he’s connected to something else that’s happening in literature, in writing, in music, in politics, in religion. He’s always again, I go back to what I said, he’s always immersing himself in other things, seeing it through the eyes. And it’s almost that we are watching how he learns about life, you know? It’s not about us learning about him, that’s one side of it. But most of his stuff is watching how he’s learning about writing, how he’s learning about spelling. Without having a teacher by the way. He’s just self taught, you know, he’s working his way through things – why can’t I spell the word that way it sounds, phonetically? Which is exactly what occurs in hip hop, and occurs in Beat poetry and Dylan, etc. So there’s a lot of ways of looking at this writing as being significant in one way or another, let alone not even just for the story, but just in terms of literature.

Liz: Speaking of House of Earth and that it had been a play and short story at one time, are they any plans for a future stage play or movie?

Nora: No, there’s nothing in the works. Other than I just read, like everyone else, a funny interview with Johnny Depp where he said oh, I would be honored to play any role in the movie if someone wanted to do it. And I went, really? That’s new to me. (chuckles) No, there are no plans at this point to take it any further than this. At least on our end.

Liz: How do you think Woody would get the word out these days? There is no live radio, hitchhiking is all but impossible, and the venues for live music are too expensive for the working poor, what current social or cultural issues do you think he would be most inspired by?

Nora: Hmm, that’s two questions.

Liz: Yeah.

Nora: Let me just see if I can get the first one first. You talk about dissemination of information, how do artists get things out, how do they get published, how do they get heard? And I’ll tell you honestly, Woody, because he was never reliant on any one way, he just created from day to day his own way of getting everything he needed to get said out there. I really mean that in a very improvisatory way. If he had a radio show, he would use the mic. But you know what, if they fired him, he would use the street. If the police stopped him, he would put up a flyer. If the flyer was torn down, he’d write an article. If they took the article out, he…. (chuckling) You know what I mean? He just kind of moved around. He wasn’t tied professionally, or in any other way, to any one way of disseminating his ideas. He used every opportunity, whatever was in front of him, very easily. And because he wasn’t dependent on money in a certain way. He was very happy without money; he could live very easily without money, compared to what we consider a livelihood these days. I have these images in my mind as I say that. When he traveled – we talk about hitchhiking — he never traveled with luggage. If he had two or three pairs of pants, he wore them all, and he wore two or three shirts. He just wore everything he owned and a jacket. And his guitar didn’t even have a case. It was just tied on a string that he could throw easily across his shoulder, and it didn’t have any weight to it. So he really pared himself down to make traveling easy. That’s important because that’s how he got his information out. He would sing for free, for anybody, he would sing for a nickel or a beer. He’d rather have a nickel or a beer than nothing. If he got fired he went someplace else and said, I have songs to sing.

The other thing I want to remind everybody, he wasn’t a professional in the way we think of a professional these days. His actual days on the air were very, very limited compared to a radio show now-a-days - maybe it lasted for three months or four months or something like that. The radio shows were 15 minutes long in 1939 – his radio shows. It’s not like he had two or three hours to get his message out. (laughs) He had fifteen minutes for his first show. And even when he came to New York, he had a longer show, like a half hour, but he shared it with a number of other people. So, he didn’t have a solo mic to get his ideas around. And I think because of that, he just kept inventing and improvising all these kinds of ways. He only spent five or six days in his life in a recording studio. That’s not how he got his message out.

So I’m kind of giggling in a way, because for Woody, nothing would have been really, really different today. Because he didn’t use any of the traditional methods to disseminate his thing. He just created every single day. He could sing his songs on the street, he could sing his songs at the picket line, he could sing his songs at the park, he could sing it in the subway, and he could sing it for nobody. That’s the other thing; he wasn’t dependent on an audience. A lot of times he would sing at open hootenannies where everyone else was singing as well. They’d give him three or four songs, and he’d sing, and then they’d pass the mic on to somebody else. So he didn’t have that - I guess I’m trying to sum it up - he didn’t have that reliance on all the ways of disseminating information that were available anyway. And he was just a great improviser and he just wanted to sing his songs.

Liz: And he was determined; he had a lot of perseverance. Sounds like he was going to do it, no matter what.

Nora: That is all he did, you know, that was all he did. Other than take good care of us kids. I have to give him a lot of credit for that. He was a great father in that sense.

My mother was the breadwinner actually for the family. She was a dancer with the Martha Graham Company, and she taught classes at the Martha Graham studio. That’s how she brought home the income. My dad never, gosh, didn’t make a penny hardly, until the 1950s, that was way later. But again, they were living in a time; all our parents were living in a time when you lived on less. You weren’t dependent on so much money the way people are now.

You really get a sense, again, when you travel different parts of the country. There’s a lot of people out there that don’t have cars. They get around. They can and still do hitchhike. Actually I work with a guy who works with hobos a lot. And there’s quite a lively hobo thing going on out there these days. Hoboing ain’t dead. A lot of bicycles, riding the trains and hitchhiking, and walking.

That was the other way. Woody got around walking quite a lot. Always took a bus somewhere for fifty cents. You could take a bus from Chicago to New York for fifteen bucks. So there were very inexpensive ways, and he was very comfortable with that as well. I’m not that anything would have ever changed for Woody.

Fireflydances: I can imagine he’d probably have been on the internet, and started things, did everything that way.

Nora: Totally, I totally agree with you on that. I think because money wasn’t his motivating thing, he would just have used it – like any kid today — I just want this to be heard. If someone picks it up, great. If no one picks it up, great.
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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 3

Unread postby Theresa » Mon Jun 10, 2013 11:16 pm

What a fascinating woman! Liz, I can well imagine that you and fireflydances were floating above the ground by the time this interview/conversation was over.

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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 3

Unread postby RamblinRebel » Tue Jun 11, 2013 12:42 am

Oh my gosh this is a wonderful interview - so insightful!

I just love this statement: "If he had a radio show, he would use the mic. But you know what, if they fired him, he would use the street. If the police stopped him, he would put up a flyer. If the flyer was torn down, he’d write an article. If they took the article out, he…. (chuckling) You know what I mean? He just kind of moved around. He wasn’t tied professionally, or in any other way, to any one way of disseminating his ideas. He used every opportunity, whatever was in front of him, very easily."

What a guy. What an inspiration. :cool:

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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 3

Unread postby nebraska » Tue Jun 11, 2013 8:42 am

I am loving this interview! It feels so intimate and there is just a wealth of information and ideas in it! Fabulous!

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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 3

Unread postby fireflydances » Tue Jun 11, 2013 4:32 pm

Theresa wrote:What a fascinating woman! Liz, I can well imagine that you and fireflydances were floating above the ground by the time this interview/conversation was over.

Boy is that ever true! Yeah, she gave us a glorious interview, a real gift. The Zone and its members are very lucky indeed. But I think that's just her. She is generous, kind and 'a hoper.'
"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested." Sir Francis Bacon, Of Studies


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