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Pastures of Plenty: A Self Portrait

Pastures of Plenty: A Self Portrait


The Unpublished Writings
Edited by Dave Marsh and Harold Leventhal

"Woody is just Woody...He sings the songs of a people.  And I suspect that he is, in a way, that people...There is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings.  But there is something more important for those who will listen.  There is the will of a people to endure and fight against oppression.  I think we call this the American Spirit." - John Steinbeck

In 1988, Dave Marsh, author and music critic, was invited by Harold Leventhal, Woody's agent, to peruse Woody's writings in the hopes of publishing a new book.  At that time, there was no "official" archives.   There were simply file drawers, boxes, scrapbooks, and portfolios each filled to the brim with Woody's writings, notebooks, diaries and correspondence.

Dave wrote: "When Harold Leventhal asked if I'd be interested in editing what he called "the Woody Guthrie scrapbook,"' a collection of previously unpublished material, my reaction was cool.  Woody's words had already been collected so many times over that it seemed unlikely the leftovers would add anything new to our picture of him.  And it was the end of the eighties:  Who needed more agitprop?...

When I walked into his office that afternoon in the winter of '88, the first thing that struck my eye was a framed 8" x 10" photograph on his desk.  It was a picture of Woody unlike any I'd ever seen.  He was precisely groomed, his shirt nearly buttoned to the very collar, and he stared straight into the camera with a glint in his eye.  I know that look; it was the gaze of a man seeing the Main Chance.  He could have been a movie star - or a rock and roller.   The picture told me something about Woody Guthrie, his ambition and his determination, that I'd learned from none of this records or books or any of the books about him."

Lenin: "Where three balalaika players meet, the fourth one ought to be a communist."

Me: "Where three communists meet, the fourth one ought to be a guitar player."

It's not easy to get Dave Marsh's attention.   His noted books on such infamous musicians as Bruce Springsteen (GLORY DAYS), The Who (BEFORE I GET OLD) and Michael Jackson (TRAPPED: MICHAEL JACKSON AND THE CROSSOVER DREAM) might have numbed him to less popular artists.  However, a blowup of a small photo taken in a 25 cent photo booth in 1940 hooked him.  His intuitive reaction led him on an eighteen month journey through Woody's writings."

Part of what makes this new assortment of Woody's writings so fascinating is the frequency with which the words here conflict with his image as it has been passed down over the three decades since Huntington's chorea stilled his public voice", Woody writes:

You've found something
Something I missed
You found a gladness being here
And how to stand up proud to laugh with everybody else
You found your work
And your notch
And where you belong
In a chain of others that can't be broken and a stone
     foundation that can't be shook down.
So far, I haven't found that
I found a drifting wind and a blowing rain
And a coward and a stranger to people's pain
And people never will show you their laugh
Till you find it out through their pain
Maybe I'm learning
That secret of all secrets, (and it ain't even no secret).
                                     - Woody Guthrie

Dave muses, "For Woody,...this pursuit of socialism may well begin in the search for a solution to a dilemma more existential than economic or political.

"To be lonesome is one of the first mistakes you can make and lots of fellers make a business out of it and claim that it's a good thing.   No, it's a bad one." - Woody Guthrie

Dave Marsh's selection of writings is a profound and historic addition to our understanding Woody Guthrie.  He has opened a door for us to enter, to read what was in Woody's mind, to feel his process, that no one since has ever done.

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