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Nora's News Archives

 

February 2001


Nora's News

You know, a lot of things pass over my desk here in our offices in New York City.  I thought it would be fun to begin passing along some of these things to you.  Some of it has to do with the projects we're working on.  And then there's the stories I get from people all over the world.  Some are part of history, and some are just good gossip!

And there's so much stuff happening in the Woody Guthrie Archives that I'm going to have to devote most of the next issue to it.  So, this is the first in what I hope to be a regular feature on our website.  I guess we'll just start by calling it "Nora's News."

I just got back from Salinas, California where the Smithsonian Institution's exhibition "This Land is Your Land: The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie" opened at the National Steinbeck Center. (This Exhibit is no longer touring).  Although I was kept pretty busy doing gallery tours, film showings and other exhibition related events, I did get a chance to actually soak in the Salinas Valley where John Steinbeck lived and worked and where so many of the Okies settled when they migrated from the Dust Bowl.  To see these two guys, side by side, in one building was pretty powerful.  Although the Center itself is a state-of-the-art museum I couldn't help but imagine Woody and Steinbeck just across the street sitting in the old bar drinking and smoking (they did things like that then), and looking over at all of us.  I often see my dad's peering eyes, and it keeps me in check.

A weird thing happened.... On the last day I was there, I learned that Woody was actually in Salinas.  There's a hospital record dated 3/18/37, when he was admitted to Salinas Valley Community Hospital.  On the admitting record Woody entered, under Religion - "ALL."  A Salinas address is given, 1221 Sunset Street.  We immediately raced over to see if the house was still standing, which it wasn't.  But the folks at the Steinbeck Center are going to investigate the local real estate and hospital records and see if we can get some more information.  I wonder who he might have been visiting in Salinas?  What was he doing there?  Anyone out there know anything about this?  Let us know.

I got back to New York to find a CD waiting on my desk.  While I was out in Salinas, bass virtuoso Rob Wasserman was recording a new Woody Guthrie piece with Lou Reed titled "The Debt I Owe." 

Just some background.... I'm working with Rob on a new CD of Woody Guthrie's notebook and diary entries.  Woody expressed himself in many different ways.  As a songwriter, a writer of fiction, journalist, illustrator and a furious letter writer.  The notebook and diary entries are much more personal and intimate than many of his song lyrics which often deal with political and current events.  I have the feeling that he was so comfortable writing in a "lyric" style that even his thoughts regarding his personal and daily life often have a lyric quality.  I was fascinated to discover this side of him and I decided to work on a new project that would give insight into a very different aspect of his life and creativity.  I also thought that the bass would be a good instrument to set the tone.  So I collected some of these writings and sent them over to Rob.

Although the bass is the musical heart and soul of the music, many different artists who are wordsmiths in their own right will be on this CD, artists who are comfortable eating up words and spitting them out with the same spontaneity that Woody's diary writings dictate.  So far, we've recorded Michael Franti (Spearhead) doing a piece called "Union Love Juice," Ani DiFranco doing "Voice" and now Lou.  If you're curious, you can find some of these pieces published in Dave Marsh's book "Pastures of Plenty."

While in Salinas I did a few radio shows.  One woman heard me talking and sent along this email:

"When my grandmother came to America she became close to another girl on the ship and they said they were ship sisters.  They were friends for life after that.  Alissa (Lizzie) married Isadore Greenblatt and they had five kids.  One was Marjorie.  She married a man named Mazia.  As a child Marjie took dancing lessons in Philly and went on to study with Martha Graham....Marjy....went to NYC, met Woody Guthrie - my grandmother heard she's living with some guy - she married him, left him, came back when he was sick.  Later she married a Jewish man again."

Note:  My Maternal grandmother, Aliza Greenblatt, came to the US as a young girl from the Ukraine.  She was a Yiddish poetess.  She lived across the street from us in Coney Island which is why we moved there in the first place.  At the time, my mom was on tour as a dancer with Martha Graham's Dance Company and my dad was... well, house-dad!  Trying to take care of the kids and write at the same time.  "Bubbie," as she was called, was there to help out.  Being a writer herself, she was very tolerant of my dad and his ways.   For many years they even passed their works back and forth, each critiquing the other, and some interesting collaborations came out of this.  In the near future, we'll be working on a new project which will entail much of this collaboration between Brooklyn's dust bowl balladeer and the Yiddish poetess.  But I'll save that story for another time!

Now I want to introduce you all to a brother of mine, Frank Fuchs.Frank Fuchs, Damon Guthrie, Joady Guthrie at the National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, CA  Frank grew up with us in Brooklyn and his mom, Shirley, was my mom's best friend.  Shirley helped my mom take care of my dad for many, many years and also worked alongside her to create the Committee to Combat Huntington's Disease (now renamed the Huntington's Disease Society of America).   So we have pretty strong ties.

Frank is a songwriter and producer and worked with us Guthrie's a few years back on the "Grow Big" CD.  He also initiated the animated cartoon video "This Land is Your Land" (no longer available) with Calico Publications for which he produced the soundtrack.  He's now focusing his efforts on a new CD of little or unknown kids songs for Rounder Records called "Daddy O Daddy".

Frank has a magic touch for bringing in a fresh musical spirit to Woody's songs and has brought to the project such unusual suspects as Cissy Houston, Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds), Syd Straw, and Taj Mahal.  (To hear Woody's lullaby "Little Sleepeye" sung with Cissy's gospel soul is something I've been waiting for my whole life.)

He's on his way over to Wales now to record two tunes with Billy Bragg and the Blokes.  One is my all time favorite "Dry Bed,"  Woody's hosanna to all kids who've struggled with and defeated the wet-sheets syndrome.  God, who else would even have thought of such a topic, particularly in the 1940's?  Well, Woody is always, first and foremost, topical.  And that includes kids struggles as well as unions.  I was recently told that Burl Ives was asked to record this song in the 50's and refused, stating "I'm not a little boy!"  I love how history has a way of working things out for the best.  Who else is better suited to premier this important new lyric and bring attention to the plight of so many struggling 5 year olds?

Well, I'm gonna wrap it up now.  But I'll keep the stories coming as I hear them.  And if you have any Woody stories you'd like to share send them along.  Maybe they'll end up here!

So long,
Nora Guthrie


Some Xtras:

Mermaid Avenue Vol.II is up for this years' "Contemporary Folk" Grammy!  I think Billy Bragg and Wilco will be recognized, in time, as changing the course of history, at least as far as Woody Guthrie is concerned.  Billy was here in New York over the Christmas Holidays with his family and performed at the Bottom Line's New Years Eve show.  It's the first time I've even thought about going out on New Years Eve in 20 years!  And I did... and he did... and the blizzard came... and Billy played from 11:00 till after 2:00 in the morning.  Not only did his 7 hear old son stay up for the show, but I did too...


From our German friends:

"Bound for Glory," Woody's autobiography, is being reissued in the German language "Dies Land ist Mein Land," publisher Edition Nautilus.  Release date, February 20, 2001.  With new introduction by Billy Bragg and new afterward by my husband, Michael Kleff.  For information contact:  www.edition-nautilus.de

And from Weston Woods, producers of children's videos:

"Just to let you know that Parenting Magazine gave our film adaptation of "This Land is Your Land" their 2001 Video Magic Award.  They describe it as "a treat...Arlo...sings his father's signature tune... (with) funny, sometimes sad and inspiring drawings... Nora movingly narrates a biographical segment..."  It's described in the February 2001 issue of Parenting.  Congratulations!

This is a video of Kathy Jakobsen's beautiful book made with teachers and child-care providers in mind.  If you want more information on this video you can contact Leigh Corra/Weston Woods Studios.


       

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