Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

In the land of opportunity, young Americans look for a model. A parent, a sibling, a cousin, or a best friend may serve, but one’s world often pivots on an unanticipated choice.

Bob Dylan borrowed a friend’s copy of Woody Guthrie’s autobiographical Bound for Glory.  In it Dylan found inspiration in the portrait Guthrie painted of himself in the book. Guthrie and folk music became a star to follow.

Later, Dylan would say, “The thing about rock’n’roll is that for me anyway it wasn’t enough… There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms… but the songs weren’t serious or didn’t reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings.”  (from liner notes by Cameron Crowe to Dylan’s Biograph 5-record set)

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

29 January 1961

Bob Dylan visits Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie in hospital with Huntington’s disease with wife Majorie and son Arlo

Dylan had arrived in New York City on January 24, 1961 (see Talkin’ New York) and on January 29 met Guthrie. Guthrie was in his fourth year at the Greystone Park Psychiatric hospital in New Jersey, suffering from Huntington’s disease, which finally led to his death in 1967. Guthrie apparently gave Dylan a card after their first meeting saying: “I ain’t dead yet.”

Dylan had written a song simply called “Song to Woody.”

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

Song to Woody

I’m out here a thousand miles from my home
   Walkin’ a road other men have gone down
   I’m seein’ your world of people and things
   Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings
Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
  ’Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a-comin’ along
  Seems sick an’ it’s hungry, it’s tired an’ it’s torn
  It looks like it’s a-dyin’ an’ it’s hardly been born
Hey, Woody Guthrie, but I know that you know
  All the things that I’m a-sayin’ an’ a-many times more
  I’m a-singin’ you the song, but I can’t sing enough
  ’Cause there’s not many men that done the things that you’ve done
Here’s to Cisco an’ Sonny an’ Leadbelly too
  An’ to all the good people that traveled with you
  Here’s to the hearts and the hands of the men
  That come with the dust and are gone with the wind
I’m a-leavin’ tomorrow, but I could leave today
   Somewhere down the road someday
   The very last thing that I’d want to do
   Is to say I’ve been hittin’ some hard travelin’ too
(Complete lyrics Song to Woody)
Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

Town Hall

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

On  April 12 1963, Bob Dylan played the Town Hall in New York City. To close the performance, he recited  another Guthrie-related piece he’d written called “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie.”  It’s a long poem so I won’t put the lyrics right here, but will provide the link below the video if you would like to listen and follow along. Listening to Dylan recite reminds me of the Beat style of poetry, but that’s another blog for another day.

“If you can roll along with this here…”

Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie lyrics

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie

Guthrie dies

Woody Guthrie died on October 3, 1967 while at Creedmoor State Hospital in Queens, New York. His ashes were sprinkled into the waters off of Coney Island’s shore.

A month later, on Thanksgiving 1967, Woody’s son Arlo Guthrie released his first commercial recording of “Alice’s Restaurant.

Dylan Visits Woody Guthrie
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