Author Archives: Louis Galdieri

From Bowling Green to 1913

Refugees, 1913: Calumet was populated by immigrants, many of whom fled their native lands due to war, famine, or political persecution, and came here seeking a better life.

In an interview with Chris Matthews on MSNBC last night, inveterate liar Kellyanne Conway defended Trump’s travel ban by claiming, falsely, that Trump is only doing what Obama did; then, in a weird twist, she went on to say that Obama “had a six month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green Massacre.”

The Bowling Green Massacre? What’s that? Most people never heard about a massacre in Bowling Green, Kentucky, because it didn’t get covered, she claimed.  I’m not sure why Chris Matthews let this slide; maybe he’s learned that there is no point talking facts with someone to whom facts “no longer matter,” as Robert Reich put it. To be clear: there’s no such thing as the Bowling Green Massacre. It never happened.

Ms. Conway has taken her canon of “alternative facts” to a despicable new place: now she’s just making up history. To say that we have gone through the looking glass is now an understatement.

History presents many cases where there was in fact a massacre but people are loath to acknowledge it, make up alternative stories to justify or accommodate it, or deny it outright. We found our way into this territory in the course of working on 1913 Massacre, and there are still people to this day who bristle at the word “massacre” (a word Woody Guthrie took from Mother Bloor), or who claim that the doors of the Italian Hall opened inward. Maybe it’s just too much, too horrible to contemplate; maybe outright denial, fussing over terms, or blaming a badly designed door, is a way for people to get by and for neighbors to get along.

When we interviewed labor historian John Beck, he likened the reluctance to acknowledge the truth of what happened at the Italian Hall to the story told in Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (which is based on the actual slaughter of United Fruit Company workers by Colombian government forces in 1928): in the novel, Jose Arcadio Segundo returns to Macondo, where he witnessed the brutal massacre of three thousand strikers, but he can find no one who will believe him. Nobody’s ever heard of a massacre — not even the friends and families of the dead. 

When you start playing political games with historical memory, you enter a very tricky, dangerous place. Woody Guthrie knew this (and, let’s admit it, he knew how to play the game). Rational people can argue about interpretations. This is different: when you refuse history, you falsify the present and foreclose on the future. We learned that much in Calumet. And when you make up massacres that never happened, you risk losing sight of those that did.

Update, one week later:

Woody and the Nobel Prize


By now you’ve probably heard that Bob Dylan has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, and you probably won’t be able to turn on a radio or a TV today without hearing a Bob Dylan song. Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, “advised those unfamiliar with the work of Dylan” — who’s that? — “to start with the 1966 album Blonde on Blonde.”

Not a bad suggestion, but Dylan’s “Song for Woody,” which he set to the tune of “1913 Massacre,” is really the better place to start tracing Dylan’s journey and to appreciate the act of self-creation that turned Robert Allen Zimmerman into Bob Dylan.

Dylan still performs the song — or, more accurately, he started performing it again around 1999 and 2000. The original recording appeared in 1962.


In his formative years, Dylan emulated Woody; he even dressed like Woody and combed his hair like him. In 1961, he made a pilgrimage to Woody’s house and visited him in the hospital. Later that year, when performing “1913 Massacre” at Carnegie Hall, Dylan would remember learning the song along with “Ludlow Massacre” from Woody as a “group of two.”

Here’s how Arlo Guthrie remembered Dylan’s visit in an interview we did for the film:

Well I remember the day in 1961 when Bob Dylan came to our house. I was 13 years old. He must have been 20. And ah, he wanted to know where my dad was. And I told him he was down the road, you know he was in the hospital at the time. And the next, within the next few years, there was this massive human undertaking around the world, this great drama of events being played out. And the sound track was Bob Dylan songs. It was an incredible. I mean not just Bob Dylan songs, but they were a major part of the sound track of the times that were going on.

And I think one of the reasons that that probably happened was because he had taken this technique of talking about serious issues, reading the papers, going to places where people were struggling. Writing their stories from their point of view, and doing it with such poetry and such power. Such simple music. Nothing complicated in these Bob Dylan music songs. But poetically, verbally, text-wise, mighty powerful imagery, that goes beyond the average ability of a mind to foresee what’s coming next. It was always surprising. And not only that, half the time it was angry and pissed off and wonderfully so, because he was angry about the same things that everybody else was angry about so when we heard a Bob Dylan song he was speaking for us. In the same way that I think my dad had spoke for a lot people a generation before.

When Oscar Met Woody

Seeing Oscar Brand’s obituary in the New York Times earlier this week sent me back to the interview we did with Oscar for 1913 Massacre. Here’s a brief audio excerpt from that interview: the story of how Oscar and Woody Guthrie met in 1940, after Woody wrote a song about the gathering of the American Youth Congress in Washington, DC.


1. OscarMetWoody     

Woody and the Seventh-Inning Stretch

As you read this short article from the Sports section of last Friday’s New York Times, bear in mind that Woody wrote “This Land Is Your Land” after he grew tired of hearing Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” every time he turned on the radio:

In the middle of the seventh inning of the Baltimore Orioles’ game against the Arizona Diamondbacks two Friday nights ago, the public-address announcer asked the crowd at Camden Yards to stand and celebrate America’s diversity. Three singers then stood on the first-base dugout and did a rendition of “This Land Is Your Land,” the famous folk song written by Woody Guthrie.

By the time the end of the third verse arrived — “All around me a voice was sounding, this land was made for you and me” — fans had joined in.

In a tradition that dates to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001, “God Bless America” is played in major league ballparks around the country, including in Baltimore, during the seventh-inning stretch of Sunday games. The song can also be heard during assorted holiday games, and the Yankees play the song during the seventh inning of every home game.

But Baltimore is the only major league franchise to regularly play “This Land Is Your Land,” which it does at Friday home games. And the song, long considered an anthem of the left because of its populist themes, is meant to be more than a Camden Yards singalong. It is a subtle, yet intentional, message from the Orioles’ management that at the intersection of sports and patriotism, one size does not have to fit all.



Fred Hellerman, 1927-2016

Fred Hellerman, the last surviving member of The Weavers, died on Thursday at 89.

The New York Times obituary does not discuss Hellerman’s relationship with Woody Guthrie (except indirectly, where it notes that Fred produced Arlo’s first two albums). Hellerman nevertheless played an important part in the musical story of 1913 Massacre — singing with Pete Seeger and other members of the Weavers “for unions, at picket lines and at hootenanies.”

It was this musical activity, exactly the kind of “singing and dancing” Woody Guthrie writes about in “1913 Massacre,” and the political sympathies it suggested, that aroused suspicion during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Fred, along with Pete Seeger and Ronnie Gilbert, was blacklisted from performing in public. Like Pete, he continued to make music throughout the 60s and 70s and well into his old age.

“His was not a standout voice,” said producer David Bernz, “but it made everything meld together.”

Woody’s “Old Man Trump” Recorded by Harvey, DiFranco, Morello

Ryan Harvey, Ani DiFranco and Tom Morello have collaborated on a recording of Woody Guthrie’s “Old Man Trump.”

I wrote about “Old Man Trump” and the bigotry it denounces here, back in January; but I didn’t know about this recording until yesterday, when my friend David Goddy sent along an article about it in The Guardian.

(David, by the way, had a hand in the musical development of 1913 Massacre. It was David who directed me and Ken to Frank Christian, who wrote and performed the soundtrack for our film.)

Will Kaufman, who discovered the Trump song among Woody’s papers, says “Woody is speaking to us from beyond the grave now.” 

I don’t know about all that, but I figure David shared the song with me because “Old Man Trump” is a song from 1950 that addresses what’s going on today. It’s sort of a 2016 postscript to 1913 Massacre: a song that pushes back hard against greedy bosses who push people around, decide who’s in and who’s out, prey on people’s suspicions and stir up hate. 

Maybe this new recording will help people push as hard against the son as Woody pushed against the father. 

Touch That Dial!

We started shooting 1913 Massacre before High Definition video and the 16:9 aspect ratio were widely used, and we kept shooting Standard Definition video and producing in a fullscreen 4:3 ratio even after HD and widescreen 16:9 became the default format.

I once endured a screening of the entire film at the wrong aspect ratio. It was deeply disconcerting. Stretched across the big widescreen canvas, Calumet no longer glows like a pearl. Video artifacts multiply. People are dwarfed and their bodies are distorted in inappropriately comical ways. I could not sit still, so I stood. Then I paced. I screamed silently at the back of the crowd. Fortunately, the audience seemed tolerant and forgiving, maybe because the film was being projected in a crowded room and most people were at an odd angle to the screen and craning their necks to begin with.

To spare others, we’ve decided to include a little notice with every DVD. Something along these lines:

Please note: when playing your 1913 Massacre DVD on a DVD player, set your television’s picture settings to an Aspect Ratio of 4:3 (not 16:9). Most computers will automatically play back at the correct aspect ratio.

Does 4:3 make our film look – gasp — dated? Yes, if dated means merely that it was made in a particular time and place. In that case, every film and work of art and piece of writing is dated. But if dated means more than that — passé, quaint, or expressive only of its time -– then emphatically, No.

It’s a clueless question to ask about 1913 Massacre, which is in part a documentary about how the past asserts itself in the present. And it betrays an impoverished way of thinking about filmmaking and about art in general. New technology will not necessarily produce better filmmaking; I challenge anyone to prove it has. Good films just don’t have a shelf life.

Ken and I talked about this issue just the other day. He reminded me that Russian film pioneer Sergei Eisenstein (in a 1931 essay called “The Dynamic Square”) advocated image formats that did not conform to industry standards, but were instead a fluid element of film’s language, suited to the dramatic demands of the story and to film’s evolving social function. Many experimental filmmakers have pushed the boundaries of filmmaking, and shown audiences new ways of seeing, in pursuit of Eisenstein’s idea.

I don’t want to pretend that 1913 Massacre is a bold experiment in the 4:3 ratio, but in a way it is: every film is a visual and storytelling experiment within the aspect ratio it uses. The 4:3 frame in 1913 Massacre is dynamic: the camera here creates its own language and poetics; the frame opens a portal between past and present.

What’s more, we could never have made this film had we abandoned the discipline of that 4:3 ratio. 4:3 is also intrinsic to the way the film approaches, presents and respects its human subjects and helps establish its directness and candor. Let’s also not overlook the simple fact that we persisted in 4:3 largely because we were shooting on a shoestring budget with makeshift kit, and we were getting great results in the field.

We’ve flirted with the idea of converting our film to HD and a 16:9 letterbox format, but then, we realized, it would just look like everything else out there, which it should not because it definitely is not like anything else out there.

1913 Massacre in New York on 03/17/16

Bloodpot and Melting Pot: Woody Guthrie and “Old Man Trump”

In 1950, Woody Guthrie leased an apartment from Donald Trump’s father, Fred, in the Beach Haven complex, near Brighton Beach in Brooklyn. As Woody’s biographer Will Kaufman writes in an article published today on The Conversation, it didn’t take too long before Woody “was already lamenting the bigotry that pervaded his new, lily-white neighborhood, which he’d taken to calling ‘Bitch Havens.'”

Fred Trump — Woody called him “Old Man Trump” — “came to personify all the viciousness of the racist codes that continued to put decent housing – both public and private – out of reach for so many of his fellow citizens,” Kaufman writes. As Woody put it, Trump had drawn a “color line” and “stirred up” hate “in the bloodpot of human hearts”:

In his notebooks, [Woody] conjured up a scenario of smashing the color line to transform the Trump complex into a diverse cornucopia, with “a face of every bright color laffing and joshing in these old darkly weeperish empty shadowed windows.” He imagined himself calling out in Whitman-esque free verse to the “negro girl yonder that walks along against this headwind / holding onto her purse and her fur coat”:

I welcome you here to live. I welcome
you and your man both here to Beach Haven to love in any
ways you please and to have some kind of a decent place to
get pregnant in and to have your kids raised up in. I’m
yelling out my own welcome to you

Woody’s “welcome” is echoed by what Arlo has to say about his father at one point in 1913 Massacre. Near the end of our first interview, I asked Arlo what he thought his father found out about being “American” in the course of his travels. The film doesn’t include Arlo’s full answer — how could it! — so here’s that moment from our interview transcripts.

Well, he found out that he was a human being. That he had shared feelings about the values of this country. He loved the idea that there would be a place in the world where people could come, people could be born, and it didn’t matter what color they were, what circumstances they were from, what religion they had, what traditions, who their parents were, who their girlfriends, boyfriends were — he loved the idea that people would rise above all these little petty things. That somewhere in the world there was a whole country of people who valued these ideas. Didn’t mean that not everybody in the government did by the way. It just meant that by in large most people understood, most ordinary people understood, that this was so. And not only that, he believed that if everybody spoke their own mind, and we actually had the tolerance to listen to everybody else speaking their mind, that the overall mind would lead us in the right direction. In other words he had faith in that if everybody could have their say, the country would be all right, and that we would go in the right direction, generation after generation.

Not everybody believes that, even today. There are people who want to cut short other people’s speech. There are people who are afraid that if they say the wrong thing they’d be foolish so they don’t say anything. There are people who believe all kinds of crazy things. But he was convinced that if you let everybody speak—often—and teach them that speaking is—by speaking I don’t mean just talking. I mean speak by what they do, by where they shop, by what they wear, by who they are, by their friends, by all of these things that define us. If we are free to be ourselves a little more in a country where people are not only encouraged to be themselves but love the idea of being in a place where everybody is being themselves. He loved that. That’s why he loved Coney Island. That’s why he loved being there in the midst of all these millions of people running around, everybody different, everybody — you couldn’t even understand half of them, it didn’t even matter. You could still buy something from them, you could still hang out with them, you could still goof off with them, you could still make music with them.

It wouldn’t be until the 1970s that the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department would bring two cases charging that “racially discriminatory conduct by Trump agents” had “created a substantial impediment to the full enjoyment of equal opportunity.” Twenty years previous, Woody issued a simpler indictment:

God dont
know much
about any color lines.

Joe Hill’s music in Chicago this week

If you’re in Chicago, don’t miss Bucky Halker at the Filament Theatre this Wednesday, November 18th at 7:30PM, performing songs from his new CD Anywhere But Utah: Songs of Joe Hill.  Bucky will share the stage with special guests the BS Brass Band and John Abbey.

More information here, at Bucky’s site and here, at the Filament Theatre site.