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Woody Guthrie folk themes still relevant

Posted on June 16, 2017 by Fred Allebach

The song Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, written by Woody Guthrie and Lee Hays, was a Dust Bowl era epistle to climate change, immigration, and the lure of California as the promised land. The lyrics have ben sampled in many folk song contexts, from Elizabeth Cotten, Bob Dylan, Doc Watson, Grateful Dead, and on.

The song is about migrant workers going down the road, searching for a hoped-for prosperity, finding a place to make a good living. Catastrophes of one kind or another push migrants out of their homes. This could be a Dust Bowl, or NAFTA, war, famine, something that upsets the existing order and makes living at home untenable.

The US has stood out as a land of opportunity, and California is the crown jewel mythical land of plenty, with a fantastic geography and climate. California; like an angel, standing in a shaft of light… This is where Guthrie saw that water tastes like wine.

All migrants can’t come here and make it big. There’s never enough resources for all to become rich. For labor, as Karl Marx noted, there are always more people at the bottom of the pile who are willing to work for less, and who drive wages down. The Okies, as seen in the depression era murals of Coit Tower, were pressured to work for less, even in the promised land of California, barely enough to get by. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, tells the story in vivid terms.

For many of those who came here, they left one set of troubles for another. The Okies, Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, and now Mexican and Central Americans all found some measure of work and enhanced material prosperity, but they also quickly came to see that while they were better off, they were still exploited. They all received big doses of nativism, seen today in Trump’s vindictive immigration executive orders. Migrants came from a bad situation where they “didn’t want to be treated this a-way”, but ended up be treated that a-way anyway.

Bosses and owners seem to have a knack for monopolizing the means of production and hoarding all the wealth. Workers today are still going down the road feeling bad, rents and food are crazy inflated, wages are too low. People are forced to move, and to suffer. The song still resonates in all the ways Guthrie intended it to.

This opens up that folk songs are songs of the people. The songs have themes that represent life of workers and everyday folk, the stories of hobos, tramps, miners, 49ers, and lonesome cowboys. Think of the song Dark as a Dungeon…

Why are there no folk songs singing the glory of property rights, private enterprise, and how great it is to exploit the little guy? Number one, these would never be “folk” songs, as they would not be of the people. There are no folk songs glorying the ruling class and the bourgeoisie. Why? Because the values are so radically different. No one would sit around the campfire singing the praises of the 1%.

The song Going Down the Road Feeling Bad is still relevant and vivid today. The same exact themes can be seen in the lives of Mexican immigrants from Michoacán in the Springs. Where are your values? Who do you stand in solidarity with? If you like folk songs, that might be an indication.

Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad
(aka. Blowing Down That Old Dusty Road)
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie and Lee Hays

I’m blowin’ down this old dusty road,
I’m a-blowin’ down this old dusty road,
I’m a-blowin’ down this old dusty road, Lord, Lord,
An’ I ain’t a-gonna be treated this a-way.

I’m a-goin’ where the water taste like wine,
I’m a-goin’ where the water taste like wine,
I’m a-goin’ where the water taste like wine, Lord,
An’ I ain’t a-gonna be treated this way.

I’m a-goin’ where the dust storms never blow,
I’m a-goin’ where them dust storms never blow,
I’m a-goin’ where them dust storms never blow, blow, blow,
An’ I ain’t a-gonna be treated this way.

They say I’m a dust bowl refugee,
Yes, they say I’m a dust bowl refugee,
They say I’m a dust bowl refugee, Lord, Lord,
An’ I ain’t a-gonna be treated this way.

I’m a-lookin’ for a job at honest pay,
I’m a-lookin’ for a job at honest pay,
I’m a-lookin’ for a job at honest pay, Lord, Lord,
An’ I ain’t a-gonna be treated this way.

My children need three square meals a day,
Now, my children need three square meals a day,
My children need three square meals a day, Lord,
An’ I ain’t a-gonna be treated this way.

It takes a ten-dollar shoe to fit my feet,
It takes a ten-dollar shoe to fit my feet,
It takes a ten-dollar shoe to fit my feet, Lord, Lord,
An’ I ain’t a-gonna be treated this way.

Your a-two-dollar shoe hurts my feet,
Your two-dollar shoe hurts my feet,
Yes, your two-dollar shoe hurts my feet, Lord, Lord,
An’ I ain’t a-gonna be treated this way.

I’m a-goin’ down this old dusty road,
I’m blowin’ down this old dusty road,
I’m a-blowin’ down this old dusty road, Lord, Lord,
An’ I ain’t a-gonna be treated this way.

 



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