Woody's Legacy

 Yesterday Pat & I attended a very enjoyable theatre performance in the West End of London called “Woody Sez”.  It was a superb production based on the life and music of Woody Guthrie. With a stage set of vintage guitars, double bass, fiddles, auto-harp and resonator it really was right up our street! 

I’m sure the show glossed over many parts of Woody Guthrie’s personality in order to compress a lifetime into 2 hours, but we found it to be an absorbing and entertaining evening out.

Woody Guthrie was an American folk singer producing an amazing outpouring of songs based on local and world events.  He represented the powerless; standing against the powerful; an authentic voice of the common people.

Hospitalised for 15 years with Huntington’s Chorea he eventually died in 1967 leaving behind a rich legacy of folk songs, including ‘Pastures of Plenty’, ‘House of the Rising Sun’, ‘Tom Joad’, ‘Worried Man Blues’, and, of course, ‘This Land is Your Land’.  A young Bob Dylan was hugely influenced by him, regularly visiting him in hospital.  Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg and many others have been inspired by his material.   

It begs the question, however, where are the Christian writers using their music to provoke, connect, question and to be a voice to the voiceless to today’s generation?  In an era where worship music proliferates and a homogenised ‘radio friendly’ sound seems all important, can it be that we have, at times, anaesthetised the church from the spirit of protest that many of the roots of church music were formed from. 

Identifying with the poor and a vision for something better were very much part of Woody’s and his predecessors’ material.  Woody didn’t fit the system; often his attempts to compromise in the media world had a disastrous response.  Instead he chose to make his music heard in some of the most humble surroundings. Yet his music still lives on, still inspiring, still speaking and still crossing borders.  Surely food for thought for us, the Christian songwriters of today?