Name Is New York
walking the streets of New York lately. Heading down along the Bowery,
cruising Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, traipsing around downtown
Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue. No, I'm not lost. But I'm not yet found
either. I'm looking for a home. A permanent home for the Woody
Guthrie Foundation and Archives.
So many streets in New York City are a part of
his life, and his music. Most of the songs written in and about
New York are still surprisingly unknown. Some rarely, if ever, sung
"My name is New York, I've been struck by the winds,
Froze up and blistered, then struck down again;
Been struck by my rich folks, Been struck by
Been struck by my mansions, Been struck by my
I'm a sewerpipe, I'm a steamcloud, I'm a little girl fell down;
My moonlamp shines in for your gowns to come
I'm vulgar, I'm legal, illegal, I'm wild;
I'm the Hudson and East River's one lonesome
- from My Name Is New York
Others have become very well known, recorded by many;
"This song was written in New York City
Of rich man, preacher and slave,
But if Jesus was to preach like He preached in
They would lay Jesus Christ in His grave."
- from Jesus Christ
you all know that "This Land Is Your Land" was written
at an old boarding house, Hanover House, on 43rd St. and 6th Avenue?
We'd like to stay in this town. In three short
years, the lease on our present location on 57th Street will be
up. At that time, we would like to have a place where we can settle
in for good. But where?
I'm trying to feel it out. My antennae are up,
my nose is sniffing around, my ears are perked, my eyes are scanning....
tracing the tracks of my years. Accompanied by Jorge Arevalo, our
Head Archivist, we're following all the leads, all the stories which
take us back through Woody's years in Greenwich Village, the lower
east side and later, the years spent living in Brooklyn. Twenty
seven years in all, from 1940 - 1967.
The streets are steeped in history, from Woody's
early work with the Almanac Singers on Hudson Street to his first
apartment on Charles Street. There's another on 5th Street
and a room on 14th Street which he shared with a Martha Graham dancer,
Marjorie Mazia -later to be my mom! We pass by Leadbelly's apartment
on East 10th St. and Pete Seeger's on MacDougal St. where Woody
visited, for days! And then out to Coney Island on the L train,
to the family homestead on Mermaid Avenue where my dad's friends
Cisco Houston, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee came to jam. Later
on, in 1950, a young 19 year old named Jack Elliott came to learn
a few songs too. (I guess there were a lot of songs to learn, cause
he stayed with us for over a year!). Bob Dylan did the same thing
in 1961, but he took the A train to Howard Beach, Queens and only
stayed a day. We all sense that somewhere along this trail we'll
find a building with Woody's name on it.
Here, we will create a permanent home for the
Woody Guthrie Archives where people from around the world can come
and get to know Woody's artistic legacy. We'd like to have a big
room where high school and college students and scholars can sit
and research his writings, song lyrics, artwork and notebooks. We'd
like to have an open space where we can create even more exhibits
like the one we curated for the Smithsonian, with newly unearthed
lyrics, artwork and photos, or create exhibits on related topics
like the Union movement, the Almanac Singers or Woody's legacy of "social protest". We have so many ideas.
We'd like to use all the resources at the Archives
to create multimedia programs for school children, lectures, film
programs and live performances for the public, to pass Woody's story
on from one generation to the next. We'd like 10,000 sq. feet of
space in New York!
So, that's why I'm walking the streets these
days. And although I don't have a cell phone, I will find a nice
old fashioned phone booth every once in a while to stop and call
in and let you know what we find. Hey, you can call us too if you
have an idea!
Better get going now.
Woody Guthrie Memorial garden in Portland, Oregon:
Bill Murlin, AV Specialist at The Bonneville
Power Administration, just notified me that they will be creating
a new Woody Guthrie memorial to honor the work he did for them.
At Pete Seeger's suggestion, they will be naming
the garden circle at the Portland, Oregon Headquarters building
the "Woody Guthrie Circle". Additional plaques surrounding
the garden will include a picture of Woody with a brief explanation
of what he did there along with quotes from song lyrics and other
The dedication ceremony will take place at the
end of May 2001, coinciding with the completion of Woody's work
there 60 years ago.
Jack 'Oklahoma' Guthrie CDs reissued:
March 1st blew in two new reissues of Jack "Oklahoma" Guthrie CDs from Bear Family Records in Germany; Milk Cow Blues
and When The World Has Turned You Down. Leon Jerry Guthrie
aka 'Jack' aka 'Oklahoma', was Woody's singing first cousin
who passed away in 1948.
"His father was John Camel Guthrie, a younger
brother of Charley Guthrie, the father of Woody Guthrie, who was
three years older than Jack. The Guthries came from a cowboy/ranching
family background in Texas; the uncle of Charley and John was Gid
Guthrie, revered trail boss of the famous 101 Ranch....". Woody
traveled from Pampa, Texas to Los Angeles in 1937 to become a country-western
musician and teamed up with "Oklahoma" for his first radio
show on KFVD 'The Oklahoma and Woody Show".
Guy Logsdon has written some terrific liner notes
(as usual!) for these CD's, with some real Guthrie family history.
Additional family photos and stories from Wava Guthrie, Leon's sister,
and Maxine "Lefty Lou" Dempsey, Woody's on-air singing
partner give a lot of insight into their relationship, both personal
more info on these recordings contact:
Bear Family Records
PO Box 1154
D-27727 Hambergen, Germany
New Solo CD from John Stirratt of Wilco:
Earlier this year John Stirratt, Wilco's bass
player, called me and asked if he could set music to one of Woody's
lyrics that he had discovered in the Archives while researching
for the Mermaid Avenue recordings. The lyric "Revolutionary
Mind" was not included in the Mermaid Avenue sessions, but
it lingered with John as something he wanted to work with.
His new CD The Autumn Defense / the green hour,
is his first solo album with Pat Sansone and includes Woody's never
before recorded "Revolutionary Mind". Thanks to John I
have found my new favorite WG quote: "I need a progressive
woman to ease my revolutionary mind".
Check it out: www.theautumndefense.com
On Broadmoor Records
Country Joe McDonald, Still Thinking of Woody Guthrie:
Many years ago, the outspoken, outrageous and
original red-diaper baby, Country Joe McDonald, recorded an album
of WG songs titled Thinking of Woody Guthrie (still available on
Vanguard Records). Country Joe was one of the first to create new
music for a Woody lyric with a rocking tune for "Woman At Home" which he first performed at a tribute concert at the Hollywood Bowl
Now he's (oops) doin' it again! This time he's
worked up a live performance which includes Woody's writings and
songs spiced with his own wicked and witty commentary! He recently
performed this at the John Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA where
the Smithsonian exhibition is on display.
Country Joe has a lot of personal connections
with Woody that go back to his own black-listed family and childhood,
which is what really inspires him to do this.
In addition to performances, he's planning on
recording a new CD of Woody's songs with a skiffle band this year.
For more info on Country Joe McDonald's "Woody" show contact:www.countryjoe.com