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:
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."
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
Now I want to introduce you all to
a brother of mine, Frank Fuchs.
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
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:
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:
from Weston Woods, producers of children's videos:
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!
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.