Author Archives: Louis Galdieri

Same song, different verse – Bill Moyers on Woody Guthrie, Right Now

In the most recent essay for his new “On Democracy” series, Bill Moyers picks up on the news that the George Kaiser Family Foundation has acquired the Woody Guthrie Archives for 3 million dollars. Plans to open a new center in Tulsa are already underway. Woody’s papers, drawings and things will be returning to Oklahoma. The irony is not lost on Moyers:

What he wrote and sang about caused the oil potentates and preachers who ran Oklahoma to consider him radical and disreputable. For many years he was the state’s prodigal son, but times change, and that’s the big news. Woody Guthrie has been rediscovered, even though Oklahoma’s more conservative than ever – one of the reddest of our red states with a governor who’s a favorite of the Tea Party.

Times change, and the scene may change; the cast of characters remains essentially the same: in our film the Oklahoma oil barons and their patsy preachers play the parts of Michigan mining captains, Boston stockholders and the thugs they hire to do their dirty work.

Woody saw right through their change of costume. He knew that the man who robs you with a six-gun is likely to be more honest than the man who uses a fountain pen. In Oklahoma, in Michigan, in California, all around the country, he sang about the beauty of ordinary people whose undoing he witnessed. And the simple message at the heart of his songs is just as radical today as it ever was.

You just have to listen.

Moyers discovers it in This Land Is Your Land:

This land is mostly owned not by you and me but by the winner-take-all super rich who have bought up open spaces, built mega-mansions, turned vast acres into private vistas, and distanced themselves as far as they can from the common lot of working people – the people Woody wrote and sang about.

So in the video essay he produced about Woody Guthrie and the prospects for democracy in America now, Moyers might as well be describing Calumet in 1913 or Tom Joad’s California: “gross inequality,” he says, is “destroying us from within”. The question is what we’re going to do about it, this time.

The Banks Are Made of Marble

Over the weekend, a CBS News blogger covering the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations happened on someone singing “The Banks are Made of Marble,” a tune Pete Seeger and The Weavers covered.

The banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the miner sweated for…

This was an encore performance, of sorts: Peter Yarrow (of Peter Paul and Mary fame) sang the tune for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators last weekend. People have been tweeting links to the song on YouTube; they were singing the song at Occupy Cincinnati.

This simple little song — which so nicely captures the spirit of the music the Weavers, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie made — is everywhere in this movement. Maybe Occupy Wall Street will bring about a resurgence of simple little songs like this — songs that tell the truth about people’s lives, songs that everybody can sing.

And maybe that’s why the story of the 1913 Massacre resonates more powerfully now than ever before. For Woody, what happened at Italian Hall in 1913 was a story about what was happening in America in the 1930s and 1940s, a story about “greed for money” and the destruction it leaves in its wake.

And greed is what the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are all about: it’s almost as if these protests are the long-awaited answer to Gordon Gekko’s infamous “Greed is good.”

The connections are there, waiting to be made; it’s 1913 or 1937 or 1941 all over again. That’s why for Arlo Guthrie, the Italian Hall disaster as captured in Woody’s song is almost an archetypal event, or at least an event that helps us (still) understand “who we are and where we came from”; it gains and gathers meaning, tying past to present. As he says at one point in the film:

These events are like stones in a pond that have waves that go way into the future. This is where I think my dad was at his best: thinking about these things, wondering about them.

The story of what happened in Calumet is not just a story about what happened in 1913. That’s a very important story, because it left an indelible mark on many people’s lives, on a whole town, on the country. But as many people have said to us after watching the film, the real “massacre” in the town and in people’s lives seems to have taken place — or continued — long after the 1913 event. And now, it appears, the event is still unfolding, 100 years after the fact.

Finished… but not finished

A quick update. We finished 1913 Massacre in mid-July, but of course… we aren’t finished.

The finished film runs 65 minutes. We are now submitting to festivals, making plans to tour with the film, bringing it to schools and towns, and working on two upcoming centenaries: Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday in 2012 and the 100th anniversary of the Italian Hall disaster on December 24th, 1913.

We’re also re-doing this site — as you can see. The new site will include a much much nicer design, more information about our project and updates on where the film is screening.

So please accept our apologies for the work in progress, and be sure to check back soon.