Woody Guthrie is not the household name that he should be.The so-called ‘father of protest’ spent his whole life prolifically penning on the plights of the migrant workers, working class and poor, through the Great Depression, Dust Bowl and beyond. Thus, it is regrettable that such a revolutionary poet is so often a mere footnote beneath the contemporary figures that he influenced. Without Guthrie, there would likely be no Bruce Springsteen, Joe Strummer or Bob Dylan, the latter of whom, hey hey, Woody Guthrie, wrote you a song (or two). On Saturday (July 14), Woody Guthrie would have turned in 100. In celebration of his centenary thats he’s owning the summer of 2012 with, SongLyrics takes a look back at five essential lyrics from this figurehead of folk music:

Pastures of Plenty

In a move that would likely be deemed ‘sell out’ nowadays, in 1941, Guthrie was hired by the Bonneville Power Administration to pen poetry on their hydroelectric dams. However, what Wood delivered was not simple propaganda, but sincere and authentic odes to his homeland. “Pastures of Plenty” was one of the most famous numbers to come from this 30 day period of employment, with the following verse epitomizing this impassioned tribute to migrant workers along the Columbia River:

It’s always we rambled, that river and I
All along your green valley, I will work till I die
My land I’ll defend with my life if need be
Cause my pastures of plenty must always be free

I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore

Woody turns ramblin’ man in the heartrending “I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore.” In this specific stanza, Guthrie graciously articulates the frightening sense of uncertainly felt by migrant workers, many of whom were forced to abandon their homes to find employment elsewhere during the devastating Dust Bowl exodus:

I mined in your mines and I gathered in your corn
I been working, mister, since the day I was born
Now I worry all the time like I never did before
‘Cause I ain’t got no home in this world anymore

‘The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done’

Although on the surface, Woody appeared to be a highly subversive songwriter, he was an overwhelming utopian at heart. Just take one of his most optimistic of tunes, “The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done,” in which he delights in listing mankind’s greatest achievements, from the building of the Pyramids, to the abolition of slavery, to the defeating of Adolf Hitler. And in this poignant penultimate quatrain, Guthrie looks forward to what will be our most fantastic feat yet – peace:

I’d better quit my talking, ’cause I told you all I know,
But please remember, pardner, wherever you may go,
The people are building a peaceful world, and when the job is done
That’ll be the biggest thing that man has ever done

Deportees

Woody was inspired to write “Deportees” in 1948, after he read that a plane carrying migrant farm workers back to Mexico had crashed in Los Gatso Canyon. Guthrie laments over the mistreatment of the migrants in life, and in this haunting stanza, death – their dignity and hard work reduced to the heartless epithet, “deportees:”

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon
The great ball of fire it shook all our hills
Who are these dear friends who are falling like dry leaves?
Radio said, “They are just deportees”

 

This Land Is Your Land

This Land Is Your Land” was penned in 1940, however, the following verse was not caught on tape until 1944. In it, Guthrie takes a shot at the States’ increasingly capitalistic leanings and the consequent inequalities suffered by the working class. Yes, turns out, “This Land Is Your Land” is not quite the red (white and blue) blooded patriotic anthem most people think it is! Still, it remains one of the most treasured folk numbers of all time and was once described by Bruce Springsteen as the “most beautiful song ever written.” Not bad for a track that started out as a pastiche of Irving Berlin‘s “God Bless America:”

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
This land was made for you and me