NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 4

Daughter of HOUSE OF EARTH author Woody Guthrie

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NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 4

Unread postby fireflydances » Tue Jun 11, 2013 5:06 pm

Part 4 - Enjoy!


Fireflydances: In what ways would you say you and your dad are alike? Or different?

Nora: Well, I’m a woman. (said coyly, Laughter)

Firefly: We mean in terms of personality.

Nora: I know, I know. (Laughter) I think we’ll all, just like everyone, we’re a combination of both parents, in a lot of ways. I have his hair, I tell you! I got that really curly, frizzy hair. He was very funny, and I think I got a great sense of humor from him. He was very hopeful. Both of my parents were big hopers. And even when we were born, he would call us little hopers - that he wanted to create hopers for the world with a capital H. He kind of invented this way, instead of calling it a baby, it was a little hoper. So I’m not sure if we were indoctrinated or we just inherited that trait. But I feel very much like that. I feel most of all that I really do believe in people. And I think he did as well, in believing that most people on earth have incredible goodness in them. For whatever reason that shows or doesn’t show, that’s another conversation. But basically he really, really believed in people, in the goodness of people, and that they would do the right thing. And I agree with that. (Laughter )Even in times when it seems it’s not happening, I always still believe that. There’s lot of things like this that I would say are internal ways of looking at life. When things are bad or don’t go your way, we just shrug it off, go onto the next step.

Fireflydances: Good quality!

Nora: Good survival qualities, right? And another thing I think I inherited from my father was this idea that this feeling inside of not depending on too much. So that if it happens, you don’t squeal with joy and if it doesn’t happen, you don’t want to kill yourself. You just kind of do things because you feel like they’re the right thing to do.

And it’s funny for me working in the business world that way; you just do what feels right. Like Spike Lee said, “do the right thing.” I think that sense of spontaneity, that within an instant most of us DO know what we feel is the right thing to do. And it happens in a flash, in a second. And because of my father’s intense sense of freedom, he could act on that in a moment. He could make a right and then suddenly make a left, and walk down this street. And I’d say, “but I thought you were going there?” and he’d say, “I know, I changed my mind.” Boom, just like that. Like you don’t have to apologize for having a change of thinking about things.

And I also feel that in a world like today, where there’s so much, where you have to join a party, you have to join a committee, you have to follow the rules, this is what we’re doing. I think this ability to go with what you feel is the right thing to do, moment to moment. Again, I don’t know if it’s genetic or learned, but it’s one of the qualities that I most admire in my father. And it’s hard to do sometimes because people come at you and say, “yesterday you said this and today you’re saying that.” And you go, “yeah, I changed my mind.” (laughs) Now, bump. Just do it.


Fireflydances: Another question. So many wonderful songs have come out in the past 15 years from your collection of Woody’s lyrics. We’re just curious. Are you working on any new projects with anyone?

Nora: I am. I’m always working on new projects. There are two projects that are coming out at the end of the summer. Do you know Del McCoury? He’s bluegrass. He’s like the Bill Monroe of bluegrass. He’s kind of the patriarch now of the bluegrass world. And I’m working on a new album of those unpublished lyrics, going back to Woody’s roots, his style, his earliest roots in bluegrass and hillbilly music. And Del is writing all of the music for the lyrics. And that should be out in June. And he’ll be performing that live with his band.

And then I have another project coming out, and this is interesting. I’ve wanted to do this one for years and years, and finally got to do it. It’s collecting and really focusing on Woody’s work for the government. Again, he’s got a great reputation as being (a) left-wing radical. They’re still screaming communist in Oklahoma. (laughs) I wanted to balance out the conversation because half of Woody’s output, and some of his best output, was when he was working for the government in different ways. All of the Columbia River songs – “Roll on Columbia,” “Pastures of Plenty” – all of those songs came out of a time when he was brought on board, and was an employee of the government, in service to the government for all of the Bonneville Dam songs that he wrote. (And) he wrote tons of songs for the government during the war – anti-fascism and anti-Hitler material. He did the Library of Congress interviews, talking about the history of his own life and his own relationship to traditional music and culture. So basically he was in service to the government on many different fronts and many different times in his life.

We’ve collected all of the interviews that he did with the Library of Congress, in their entirety, all the work he did for the Department of the Interior, all of the work he did for the war in service. You know, he wrote for the servicemen? The government asked him to write anti-syphilis songs and VD blues and things like that, to warn all the soldiers and sailors about the venereal diseases of the time and how to protect themselves. He would write songs for the government, and they printed them and handed them out to all of the soldiers. He was like on call in service on many, many occasions with the government.

And I really love that about him, because he really exemplifies that you can be critical of certain things. Again, that’s not changing your mind. Yeah, I can write songs for the government and be critical about the government. I can write this about how full the dams are going to be, but also be critical about how bad the housing situation is. And I love that. For me that’s like the ultimate citizen. Citizen Guthrie. (laughs) That collection of material is going to come out later this summer, too.

Then the third audio is a walking tour of Woody’s New York. When he first came to New York City, all the different apartments that he lived in and all the different songs that he wrote. This is just a very simple guide to 19 locations in and around Manhattan, talking about what apartments he lived in and what songs – important material. Like he wrote “This Land is Your Land” on 43rd Street and 6th Avenue.


Liz: Now this is the kind of stuff I LOVE! I would eat this up.

Nora: I was able to put up a little pocket guide last year. It was so successful I loved it. It’s not like a big book. It’s the cutest little pocket guide that someone could keep in their back pocket for someone who’s interest in music history and things like that. Then I liked this project so much I went out and did a complete audio narration of it with interviews with all the people that he lived with in these locations – like talking to Pete Seeger about what it was like sitting next to him when he wrote “Tom Joad.” So, that’s going to come out in the next two or three months, as well.

Fireflydances: That’s a very important oral history.

Nora: Yeah, it is. And not only that, but we had all these interviews in the archives. Again, these were people I knew and grew up with. So, it was great to get these firsthand accounts. A number of them have died since I did these interviews, so getting these people that were actually there, your primary source interviews, oral history, was terrific. To get their account of what happened the night that Woody wrote “This Land is Your Land.”

Liz: How do we get a hold of it when it comes out? How can we purchase it?

Nora: We’ll be selling it on our website. When it comes out, we’ll be making an announcement. You can download it into your iPod and walk around the city, and little fun facts. It’s not overly heavy, you know.

Liz: Sounds fun!

Firefydances: I love New York, and I grew up in New York, so it sounds fabulous!

Nora: Yes, it’s kind of cool. One of the things I discovered along the way – you know that Edward Hopper painting of the café at night? The two people sitting in the glass diner? It’s a very famous Edward Hopper diner picture? I think it’s in a museum in Chicago.

Liz: Yes! I love that painting.

Nora: That was like two blocks away from where Woody lived with Pete Seeger. Nicolas Rey, the director of Rebel without a Cause, was Woody’s roommate at the time, and a number of other fascinating characters from New York. And I think they were in that café. I’m sure of it. When Woody writes that “we went down the street to get a cup of coffee,” that was the diner. I love imagining this whole history of New York City from 1940 through 1950. I think it was a fascinating time in the city. And that’s what I tried to do with the audio to get people who lived there and worked there with him to tell the stories.

Liz: Speaking of art, we’ve read somewhere that you are very drawn to your father’s artwork. Are there any plans to exhibit art outside the Guthrie Center?

Nora: We did publish a book of his artwork. Did you know that?

Fireflydances: Yes

Nora: It’s very, very hard to exhibit any of his original material outside of the Guthrie Center now because the material is so fragile. He used very cheap paper and inks and watercolors, etc. to do a lot of his artwork. So they’re very hard to preserve and almost impossible to display, which is why I did the art works book a number of years ago because I knew that this stuff was literally crumbling. So we are able in the new Guthrie Center to put some of it on display, but in all honesty a lot of it we can’t anymore because it was done on old construction paper. Remember we used to go to the corner store that had the soda fountain and they sold art supplies for kids – different kinds of construction paper and things like that? For the most part, that’s the kind of stuff my dad worked on. And it doesn’t have a long shelf life. So especially the watercolors. I used to display them. I did an exhibit with the Smithsonian maybe 10 years ago and I was able to put a lot out there. And I’ve noticed just in the last 10 years, it’s really deteriorated. So now, on the whole, we don’t exhibit any originals. The oil paintings, you can obviously still display. There’s only two existing ones now. But that’s why we spent so much time reproducing a lot of the artwork the best we can because it’s so fragile.

Come on back, tomorrow. We have two more parts to go.
"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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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 4

Unread postby Theresa » Tue Jun 11, 2013 10:08 pm

I'm just loving this interview! Thanks for getting it for us, Liz and fireflydances!

I looked up the bluegrass guy that Nora was talking about, and I can really see him doing Woody's lyrics justice.


[youtube]VgHhL3UIG-U[/youtube]

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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 4

Unread postby fireflydances » Wed Jun 12, 2013 12:09 am

Boy, I remember that one. Nashville Cats, an old Lovin' Spoonful song. Brings back memories!! Thanks for posting it.

Yeah, this band is going to well by Woody's lyrics. The diversity of artists taking on Woody is truly amazing.
"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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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 4

Unread postby Buster » Wed Jun 12, 2013 5:23 am

This made my day:
And because of my father’s intense sense of freedom, he could act on that in a moment. He could make a right and then suddenly make a left, and walk down this street. And I’d say, “but I thought you were going there?” and he’d say, “I know, I changed my mind.” Boom, just like that. Like you don’t have to apologize for having a change of thinking about things.

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Re: NORA GUTHRIE INTERVIEW - Part 4

Unread postby Liz » Thu Jun 13, 2013 12:30 am

Buster wrote:This made my day:
And because of my father’s intense sense of freedom, he could act on that in a moment. He could make a right and then suddenly make a left, and walk down this street. And I’d say, “but I thought you were going there?” and he’d say, “I know, I changed my mind.” Boom, just like that. Like you don’t have to apologize for having a change of thinking about things.

I know. I could so relate to this.....mostly from a political perspective. It's kind of like it's OK to have views about different issues that don't necessarily follow a party line. We're all individuals, and we're allowed to think freely and be contradictory.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.


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