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Nora's News Archives

 

March 2001


My Name Is New York

I'm 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 or recorded;

"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 my bums,
Been struck by my mansions, Been struck by my slums....


I'm a sewerpipe, I'm a steamcloud, I'm a little girl fell down;
My moonlamp shines in for your gowns to come down;
I'm vulgar, I'm legal, illegal, I'm wild;
I'm the Hudson and East River's one lonesome child."

                      - 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 Galilee,
They would lay Jesus Christ in His grave."

                     - from Jesus Christ

And 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.
So long,
Nora 


Some Xtras:

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 writings.
    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 and professional.

For more info on these recordings contact:
Bear Family Records
PO Box 1154
D-27727 Hambergen, Germany
www.bear-family.de
e-mail: bear@bear-family.de

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 in 1971.

    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

 

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