Woody Guthrie: 1913 Massacre
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
1913 Massacre (1941) by Woody Guthrie (RIP 1912-1967). Guthrie is to me the greatest American musician. He lifted the lowest and challenged the highest in society and if this is not the American way then I am lost! He lived through some of the most turbulent times in the 20th Century - the Roaring 20's, The Great Depression, The Dust Bowl and California migration, WWII and the post war brew of traditionalism, suburban flight, rock n roll and civil rights. He wrote about the experiences of common people during these times. His songs are paintings of mainly the hidden peoples, the hard times they know and the callous corruption of most of the so called higher institutions of society, taking aim at politics, government, law, business, religion and the military all at once. But his aim was always toward equality and justice for those born into or locked into poverty or otherwise alienated or discriminated against by the power centers of society. He famously wrote on his guitar "This Machine Kills Fascists" and his music was a means to challenge injustice and authoritarianism. He was a folk musician, a musician of the people extraordinaire. His cultural impact still resonates in folk music and in the continued social-political movements toward justice for all. Over all of his other more famous songs (This Land is your Land, This Train is Bound for Glory, Pastures of Plenty, Deportees), I decided on 1913 Massacre to share because its a tale of a true story, where the common humanity of working class folks is made so beautifully clear, thus their horrible suffering at the hands of capital and greed is reveled for its full meanness and inhumanity. It may seem funny to say that Guthrie, a member of America's Communist party, is the most important American musician of the 20th Century, but I think this is possibly correct. For Guthrie, the gospel was true - God is Love and we are here to love and serve each other, and those most in need deserve our greatest efforts. To Guthrie, profits or power or ideology should never be placed above the welfare and dignity of others. This ancient, radical idea embraced by all major religions was real and alive for Guthrie and so he traveled the country and he sang and he advocated and organized to try to improve the lives of others. Some may thus also argue that Guthrie is the core of the foundation of the major left leaning movements of our times in civil rights, workers rights, women's rights. He is important to know. His music is such a mix of hope and despair that if you have a heart and let it open just a bit, Guthrie's music will challenge and empower you and if you take a deeper dive it will give you laughter and love. It's been a steady friend of mine for the past 30 plus years.