July 15, 2012

Amazing Feats of Simplicity: Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie remained a simple man despite his fame
 and offers of wealth, self portrait
Woody Guthrie, troubadour of the common people and writer of songs like This Land Is Your Land, came into the world 100 years ago yesterday. Although he was born to a wealthy family, by the time he was a teen the family fortunes had changed. By age 20 he was on his own and penniless, like a lot of people at the time.

The Depression (the one in the 1930s) and dust bowl years were harsh for regular people, and Woody began to transfer his observations of the poor and downtrodden to song. In doing so, he became the first modern protest singer. Eventually he was courted by powerful interests that offered Woody 'opportunities', but he was very wary of the materialistic view of life.

In his writings, Guthrie explains that his father's pursuit of money and social status were a cause of personal and family trauma.
"…oil slickers, oil fakers, oil stakers, and oil takers. Papa met them. He stood up and swapped and traded, bought and sold, got bigger spread out, and made more money… Almost every day when Papa rode home he showed signs and bruises of a new fist fight, and Mama seemed to get quieter than any of us had ever seen her. She laid in the bedroom and I watched her cry on her pillow.
And all of this had given us our nice seven-room house."
Perhaps because of his early experiences of the drawbacks of a materialistic lifestyle, Woody preferred to live simply. He traveled by foot or boxcar rather than by boffo limousine. His first biographer wrote that Woody didn't seem to care much about money, and was just as likely to give his cash away to someone living on the street than bring it home for himself.

Although he could have amassed great personal wealth, Woody Guthrie knew from an early age what sacrifices needed to be made to live the 'high life'. He wasn't willing to submit to them, and made a choice that not many have the strength and wisdom to make.

Faced with the potential wealth and luxury lifestyle that was within his grasp, that is an amazing feat of simplicity. 

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