HOME | WOODY100 | NEWS | LYRICS | BIOGRAPHY | STORE | ARCHIVES | EDUCATION | OUTREACH | MAILING LIST | DONATE | CONTACT


Nora's News Archives

 

May 2001


Old Soldiers, Turkey, Terkel and Clash

I’m a little late in getting this May News out. The reason being that I was waiting around for the right thing to write about and that right thing didn’t appear until Sunday, April 29th. And I didn’t even know it was the right thing until I was there, and in truth, I didn’t even realize it until the next day!

Journal entry, April 30th:
  
Last night I dreamt I was on a  merry-go-round ride in Steeplechase Park. Woody’s laughing face tops the park entrance. The mechanical music thuds along with the big drum, and I hear Woody singing:

"Come let’s see the merry-go-round,
the merry-go-round, the merry-go-round.
Come let’s see the merry-go-round
go round and around and around".

With each go round I reach up to catch a tiny ring which turns into a moving picture......

On Sunday, April 29th, I went to an event at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York. "The Activist Tradition" celebrated 65 years of activism honoring the vets of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. one of the main reasons I went there was because Studs Terkel was going to be the guest speaker. On arriving at a preperformance luncheon I was first struck by the menu; turkey sandwiches, vegetable dishes, diet cokes and bottled water. "Hmmm", I thought. "This is definitely a low cholesterol crowd...".  As I looked around the tables, I understood why. The majority of the hundreds of people that attended seemed to be in their 70’s and up and the luncheon menu seemed to reflect their health concerns perfectly. Following my turkey sandwich and water, I happened to bump into Studs who was just coming in for a snack.
   
After our hellos, Studs explained to me that he was having a little trouble with his hearing so I leaned into his neck, less than an inch from his ear, and said, "You don’t have to hear, Studs. You just have to talk. We’ll do all the listening".

Relieved from the burden of having to hear anything I might have to say, he began reeling off stories about the ‘40’s when the Almanac Singers (Woody, Millard Lampell, Lee Hayes and Pete Seeger) stayed at his house.    

He tells me, "the Almanacs would break out into this song Greenback Dollar singing ‘I don’t want your millions Mister’ wherein Woody would commence to annoy the hell out of ‘em singing as loud as he could, ‘Yes I want your millions Mister!!’ Woody went on to do a complete rewrite of the song. For the following months on the road, Woody and the Almanacs battled
over his rewrite.

Anyway, right from the top of the program  I was smitten. Moe Fishman (National Secretary of VALB), referring to the recent protests in Quebec, stumbled over his words,  "against the....global... uh, ... trade...mmm, world.... uh....what’s it called, the corporate.... ahh hell, we used to just call it Imperialism!!" With a burst of laughter we all settled in to our seats. The program that followed was one of the most fun, interesting, educational, moving, exhilarating, illuminating and profound events I’ve ever
been privy to attend.

At one point, all the attending Vets were asked to come to the front of the hall and say a few words. A mike was passed down the line from one to the next. The few words that were said by each of them was truer and wiser and clearer than any words I’ve heard spoken by any politician.  It broke my heart, in the best sense of the word, and a flood of tears followed that I could not contain.

Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade - Lou Gordon, 6th from the left Lou Gordon


I was especially happy to see one very special Vet there, Lou Gordon.
Lou Gordon, Woody Guthrie and Harold Leventhal
Lou had visited my dad at Greystone Hospital in the ‘50’s and took some
beautiful photographs of him which he generously donated to the Archives, among other invaluable items. You can see some of Lou’s photos in the final panel of the SITES touring exhibit. Other photos Lou donated can be seen on the Woody Guthrie Tribute CD "Till We Outnumber ‘Em" recently released on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records and on the accompanying poster (Both are available on our Support the Foundation page).
   
Peter Glazer’s production "Pasiones-Songs of the Spanish Civil War"
followed the speakers. Jamie O’Reilly, Michael Smith and Katrina O’Reilly
once again moved me to tears. Peter also produced the show "Woody Guthrie, American Balladeer" which has been touring the country and Europe on and off now for over 15 years. Well, it had me wondering if Woody had ever written a song about the Spanish Civil War?

The next day, I found a song in the archives called "Antyfascist Steve" which was written September 18th, 1953 while in Topanga Canyon, CA. It begins:

"I guess tears run to my eyes
Day I kissed you that goodbye
Headin over t’ Spain t’ fight
On my New Yorky ship that nite.
I says if I can stop Franco now
Maybe I’ll mess Hitler up somehow
My hundred comrades on my shipsdeck
Gonna let Wall Street know we tried."

Following six more verses it’s signed, "to my friend Stevey".

Always the sleuth, I checked the alba-valb website to see if I could find out who Steve Nelson might be. I did find a Cary Nelson (any relation?).

But then, quite by accident, I came across a miscellaneous note on the site from one Brian Sheppard which referred to a Clash song ‘Spanish Bombs’ which was released on their London Calling record in 1979. Surprised and ever curious, I picked up a book about The Clash which I just happened to get from Billy Bragg for my birthday. Browsing through The Last Gang in Town by Marcus Gray (Owl Books), trying to find out about the song ‘Spanish Bombs’, I found instead that punk-rocker Joe (John Mellor) Strummer, Clash front man and songwriter, actually nicknamed himself "Woody" Mellor!

Gray goes on to explain; "Woody was the real-life Woody Guthrie, the hobo folksinger who traveled the USA in the Thirties.... ‘Yeah, you could call us a folk group,’ he (Mellor) told Sean OHagan when discussing the Clash in 1988. ‘I came out of  Woody Guthrie, in a way.’ Indeed, upon his arrival in London John went one step further than Bob Dylan, who had merely borrowed Guthrie’s singing voice and identity, by adopting the folk singer’s name; for the best part of six years from September 1970 onwards, everyone who met him knew him as Woody." 
   
Back in the ‘70’s, a young teenager named Billy Bragg was going to those concerts. He wanted to become a punk-rocker like his hero "Woody" Mellor.

Back to my dream:
..... I look into the rings, filled with tiny moving pictures. I see Lincoln Brigade Vets lined up. Tears fill my eyes as I struggle to swallow a bite from a turkey sandwich. Next time round I grab a ring. Studs Terkel, Woody and the Almanac’s are arguing over the words to  ‘Greenback Dollar’. Up and down I go, around and around. The next ring shows Lou Gordon with Ani DiFranco looking at pictures of my father, the Smithsonian Institution looms in the background. "My friend Stevey" Nelson appears on the next go-round and a song, ‘Antyfascist Steve’ plays from a boombox.  I reach way up high and grab "Woody" Mellor and the Clash. And then I catch a ring for Billy Bragg.
   
"Come let’s see the merry-go-round,
the merry-go-round, the merry-go-round.
Come let’s see the merry-go-round,
Go round, and around, and around".

see ya’ around,
when I wake up,
Nora Guthrie


XTRAS:

You can learn more about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade at www.alba-valb.org
   
Read "Old Soldiers" written by Tony Hendra about these remarkable men and woman; www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/scw/oldsoldiers.htm

Let Woody drive you nuts too! Hear him sing "MerryGo-Round" on 20 Grow Big Songs (Rising Son Records).

 

HOME | WOODY100 | NEWS | LYRICS | BIOGRAPHY | STORE | ARCHIVES | EDUCATION | OUTREACH | MAILING LIST | DONATE | CONTACT

Copyright 2000-2011, Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. Privacy Policy | Site design by Anna Canoni.