Thursday, January 19, 2006
LEARNING HOW TO LIVE
Originally uploaded by tearapen.
Bob Dylan said that you could learn to live by listening to Woody Guthrie songs. Those old folk songs may not be the first place I'd go to learn what I need to know about living, but they make great background music while you're reading your books of wisdom. And long after you close those books, you may find you're still humming along to one of Woody's anthems.
Despite the efforts of people like Dylan and Nanci Griffith, I wonder how many people listen to Woody at all anymore. No matter how many do, it's not enough. He never claimed to be a saint, and his wandering ways must have brought unhappiness to many of those near and dear to him. But the man knew things that a lot of people never get in their lifetimes.
Things we all need to be reminded of on a regular basis.
From riding boxcars and living in migrant camps during the Depression, he learned something about the human spirit that he never allowed success to take away: It resides in the poor and disdained as strongly as it does anywhere else. Maybe stronger. Or as Woody said it:
I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim or too ugly or too this or too that.
It may seem like the simplest lesson of all, and of course, it's the basis for all the holy books, but it still looks like a rarity when it's truly lived.
Every now and then when I start feeling like a fancy pants, I go out and rent, Bound for Glory, the film version of Woody's autobiography. The other day I was feeling a little too impressed with my author self, so I decided it was time.
Artistically, it may not be the best movie ever made, but it never fails to move me. It brings home the Depression--and what it means to have no work--with heart wrenching clarity. What it means to travel to a distant place, hoping to work for below subsistence wages. What it means to live in grubby migrant camps, and still be able to sing and rejoice at the end of a day.
It's something most of us don't know much about, but Woody did, and he pretty much devoted his life to trying to make us understand how good these people are. How much like you and me.
I particularly love the end of the movie when he walks out of a glitzy hotel where his agent has got him a lucrative deal to play because he'd rather play in the camps for nothing. ..because he doesn't want to lose his connection to the people...because he knows that once you've lost that, you've lost everything.
It's the kind of common wisdom that's sadly uncommon.