Why do we continue to talk about Woody so many years on, never had a hit, never went platinum, never played in an arena, never got his picture on the cover of Rolling Stone. But he's a ghost in the machine – big, big ghost in the machine. And I believe it's because Woody's songs, his body of work, tried to answer Hank Williams' question: why your bucket has a whole in it. And that's a question that's eaten at me for a long time.
So, in my early 30s, his voice spoke to me very, very deeply. And we began to cover "This Land is Your Land" in concert. And I knew I was never gonna be Woody Guthrie. I liked Elvis, and I liked the Pink Cadillac too much. I like the simplicity, and the tossed–off temporary feeling of pop hits. I liked big, fucking noise. And in my own way, I like the luxuries and the comforts of being a star. I had already gone a long way down a pretty different road.
So four years ago, I found myself in an unusual situation. It was a cold winter day, and I was standing alongside of Pete Seeger, and it was 25 degrees. Pete had come to Washington. Pete carries a banjo everywhere he goes – the subway, the bus – and comes out in his shirt. I said, "Man, Pete, put on a jacket, man, it's freezing out here." He's ninety years old, a living embodiment of Woody's legacy. And there were several hundred thousand of our fellow citizens in front of us. We had the Lincoln Memorial behind us and a newly–elected president to our right. And we were going to sing, "This Land is Your Land" in front of all these Americans. And Pete insisted, "We have to sing all the verses. We have to sing all the verses, man. You can't leave any of them out." I said, I don't know, Pete, there's only – we had, like, a crowd of six year old school kids behind us. He says, "No, we're all gonna sing all the verses – all the verses. And, so we got to it."
(Playing guitar and singing "This Land Is Your Land"):
As I was walking
I saw a sign there
And on that sign said
And on the other side
It didn't said nothing
That side was made
For you and me.
This land is your land
This land is my land
(Speaking) This song is meant to be sung by everybody.
(Playing guitar and singing "This Land Is Your Land" – crowd singing along):
To the New York island
From the Redwood Forest
To the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me
So, on that day, Pete and myself, and generations of young and old Americans – all colors, religious beliefs – I realized that sometimes things that come from the outside, they make their way in, to become a part of the beating heart of the nation. And on that day, when we sung that song, Americans – young and old, black and white, of all religious and political beliefs – were united, for a brief moment, by Woody's poetry.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
CULTURE 14 Gonzo Masterpieces
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus