Thursday, January 24, 2008

Andy Irvine Salutes The Magic Of Woody Guthrie

This was not what this concert in Whelan's was actually called. Rather, it was an event where Andy Irvine paid tribute to Woody Guthrie and his music at a fund-raising event for the Simon Community and a support group for people with Huntington's Disease (and their families). This was quite some time ago, naturally. One useful thing about the concert is that I now know all about Huntington's Disease. It basically makes you go mad* and then lose control of your body, and it is hereditary and has no cure. Guthrie eventually died of the disease, after being progressively more invalided by it. His mother also suffered from the ailment, leading to some grimly gothic moments in his childhood.

Irvine probably did more talking than singing in this show, telling us all about the life of Woody Guthrie, which was handy for me as I knew next to nothing about him. Guthrie was one of those American folky types who stick up for The Working Man and the plain people of America against the interests of Big Capital and the like. He is meant to have been heavily influential on the Bob Dylan, before he went electric. Guthrie's songs seemed to exist in a world of people whose lives had been destroyed by the Depression, apart from some later ones where he sings about killing Nazis and the like (these were written during World War 2). He also had it in for dodgy crypto-Nazi Charles Lindbergh, star of that The Plot Against America novel by Phillip Roth.

All but one of the songs tonight were by Guthrie, and to be honest they did sound a bit like they were just different words to the same tune, but you could see how they would work as vehicles for the social commentary of the lyrics. The one song not by Guthrie was the encore, 'Never Tire of the Open Road', Irvine's own song about Woody. By now this has become one of my favourite songs ever, to the extent that maybe I would prefer it rather than 'Ouija Board, Ouija Board' to be played at my funeral. You have to love a song that name-checks the IWW, and where the audience are required to join in with the refrain "All you Fascists bound to lose / All you Fascists bound to lose/ You're bound to lose / You Fascists bound to lose".

One thing I am a bit curious about, though, is Woody Guthrie's politics. Irvine's description of his life made him out to be a Communist fellow traveller, for all that he never actually joined the party. However, Irvine's song about Guthrie implies strongly that he was a supporter of the International Workers of the World (better known to some as The Wobblies), an anarcho-syndicalist organisation. I am curious as to how this contradiction can be resolved, and may write a letter of enquiry on the matter to Mr Irvine.

*I have been unable to come up with a less offensive term that does not lack explanatory power or sound like a euphemism.

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