March 30, 2011

Happy Tues. Pleasant but pale here, cool at +17. We got about two inches of the fluffy stuff Sunday evening that is still sitting there.

Yokelly we watched a good film about Woody Guthrie called Bound for Glory, which came out in 1976. David Carradine, the kung-fu guy, played Guthrie and astonished everyone by doing a good job, including singing and playing guitar in a passable imitation of the great Woody. Guthrie is famous for his song This Land Is Your Land, which he wrote to the tune of When the World’s On Fire, a Carter Family tune about the last days. But Guthrie was also an ardent supporter of the working man and of unions, which were the only means of getting fair treatment from large companies. People who rag on about unions these days should stop and think about what unions achieved for the average worker, including the 40 hour work week, minimum wages, occupational safety rules (do not lock the doors, in case of fire—last week was the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, which killed 146 woman workers), even benefits. True, some union management types grew too big for their britches and lived off the dues paying members, but unions demonstrably improved working conditions for tens of millions of workers.

Anyway, Guthrie and other singers like Pete Seeger, Cisco Houston, and Paul Robeson helped organize the working poor, using their music to draw people and help create a bond for them to work together, the essence of a union. The film shows several scenes where employers’ hired thugs beat up poor working people attempting to get fair treatment. Seeger was nearly killed in one such incident in real life. Bound for Glory is the title of Guthrie’s autobiography (from the song title, This Train is Bound for Glory). The film is beautifully photographed and shows the difficulty Guthrie’s family endured when he was off traveling around the country. Guthrie’s song-writing and rough-hewn singing and playing inspired young Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota to be a folk singer. Good film to take you back. The footage of the dust story, the dusty roads, the old cars, and the migrant worker camps, then mostly populated by people who migrated west from Oklahoma, Texas, and the Midwest in general. Some of the film guides diss this film as a remake of Grapes of Wrath, but Ebert and Pauline Kael of the New Yorker both liked it a lot. So did we.

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