The Woody Guthrie Tribute Concert at the Kennedy Center: Some Good Music, and some Dreadful Politics
Woody’s great protégé, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, who played and lived with Woody for three years in the 1950s, and introduced his music to thousands in this country and Britain, sang a poignant “1913 Massacre,” Guthrie’s rendition of the killing of coal miner’s children and wives in the Ludlow Colorado strike of that year by company thugs. Only Jack Elliott can capture Guthrie’s voice and the power of his lyrics, and it is a shame that he was only allotted one song on his own. He did, however, lead the entire group of performers in a rousing “This Train is Bound for Glory,” Woody’s theme song. Listening to his voice, it was as if Woody was still among us.
I started with the good part. Unfortunately, the entire event was marred by the hard Left narrative particularly voiced in the most offensive manner by two artists, Tom Morello and Ry Cooder. At least Cooder is a real musician, but that does not excuse his behavior and his leftist rants delivered both in asides and in the rewriting of Guthrie’s lyrics. Cooder sang a little known Guthrie song written towards the end of WW II about how the fascists would all lose. Cooder commented, to great applause from the leftist audience, that we won that fight, but the fascists were still here, and he knew they would be defeated on election day. Singing Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man,” about hired thugs of the coal companies in the early 20th Century, Cooder changed a lyric to make it about the Trayvon Martin case. He could have grown up to be President, he said, “but he was killed by a vigilante man.” Then he sang a new verse about how those in the audience should not tell anyone that they attended the concert, or they too might be killed!
Does Ry Cooder really believe that paying an average of $100 for a Kennedy Center concert could lead anyone to be harmed, not to say murdered? Doesn’t he know that by now, Woody Guthrie is a celebrated national hero, honored and revered by many, and no kind of danger to anyone who sings his songs?
As for Tom Morello, I would like to think that Arlo – a registered Republican and a libertarian – would blanch at having to listen to his songs and his hectoring lectures to the audience. Instead of singing one of Guthrie’s tunes, he sang his own dreadful new song about how he wants a revolutionary woman, “a Weather Underground woman,” not any bourgeois liberal. A man devoted to the dwindling and extremist Occupy Wall Street movement, Morello revealed himself to be a total idiot. Morello sang some lyrics about “how if you’re a Republican, Democrat or KKK, I’m not your man.” Do all those who cheered him – many of them most likely Democrats themselves- really believe because they vote and work in our democratic system-that they are the same as members of the Klan? Or are they just self-hating, middle-class, well-off liberals who like to think they too support the revolution because they can cheer the likes of Morello whose rants assuage their guilty consciences?