Posted by Kinzey Posen, SCENE Producer | Wednesday May 16, 2012
Woody Guthrie (Canadian Press)
He was the poet laureate of the North American left and his huge body of work, constitutes the most important and currently singable collection of political songs.
—Mitch Podolak, Winnipeg socialist, banjo picker and music mogul
Had musical troubadour, activist and songwriter Woody Guthrie
not died in 1967, he'd be celebrating his 100th birthday this coming
July. The composer of This Land is Your Land has left a huge legacy
that has influenced the likes of Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg and Bruce
His songs have been covered by artists around the world and
his political and philosophical perspectives have been the catalyst for
many a person over the last 70 years.
One of Woody Guthrie's biggest fans is Mitch Podolak. He's a former radio host, the
former artistic director and co-founder of the Winnipeg Folk Festival and
other festivals across the country, co-founder of the West End Cultural Centre
and Home Routes creator, banjo picker and folkie. He's a lot of things, but the music of Woody Guthrie has always held a
special place in his heart.
SCENE asked Podolak a few questions about Guthrie. Here's what he had to say.
Mitch Podolak (myspace)
1) For those people who don't know who Woody Guthrie was, explain his influence. Woody Guthrie was kind of like America's tuning fork. He was able to take the traditional American folk and gospel tunes as a musical base and write contemporary commentary on American life from the dust bowl to the development of industrial unionism. His songs covered every kind of working class experience from airplane crashes of deported Mexican workers to the development and building of the Columbia River Dams. He was the poet laureate of the North American left and his huge body of work, constitutes the most important and currently singable collection of political songs. Each work of his is an individual piece of art and highly treasured within the folk and left communities.
2) What was his best known song? This Land Is Your Land of course. The cleaned up (DE-politicized) version is often sung in class rooms led by right wingers who have no ideas about the fact that Woody was a member of the Communist Party and the lyrics reflected that. It's also his most covered song. 3) What's your favourite Guthrie song and why? 1913 Massacre which is about mining company gun thugs who yelled into a miner's Christmas party that there was a fire and 76 kids got killed in the rush. It's a true story from Calumet, Michigan and the moral of the tune is entirely anti-capitalist and this song played a huge role in my own politicization.
Woody Guthrie (Canadian Press)
4) What lessons have you personally learnt from his music? From Woody there are lots of lessons. The first is about the power of song as an organizing tool. Secondly, there is a clear class consciousness in his writing. And lastly, 50 years after hearing them the first time, I'm still in awe of them. 5) What lessons have you personally learnt from his philosophy? To stand up and fight capitalism and imperialism and racism and injustice wherever and whenever you find it.
6) How should people remember Guthrie on the 100th anniversary of his birth? The profit from the show is going to build a grave stone for Steve Sketcherbonovitch. He was one of two workers shot down in cold blood during the 1919 Winnipeg strike. It's still an unmarked grave. On the 100th Anniversary of Guthrie's birth we considered very carefully what Woody might have wanted done with money raised in his name. He was a working class warrior and so was Steve. Workers of the World Unite! 7) What can people expect to hear at the concert Thursday night? A fine cross section of Woody songs, done in a bunch of styles illuminating the fact that the songs are still totally relevant.
The Songs and Music of Woody Guthrie, a 100th Birthday Celebration takes place at the West End Cultural Centre Thursday, May 17 at 8:00 p.m.