God exists in Woody Guthrie but not in women’s mags
I found lyrics by Woody Guthrie in my mail this week as part of a debate that was also marked to me. It flung me straight back into morning assembly in Bombay and a whole schoolful earnestly singing:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean
From the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea
This land was made for you and me.
As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.
Well, Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) wrote it in the 1940s and it’s the most famous folk song in America with California to the New York Islands and Redwood Forest to Gulf Stream Waters in his version but it went around, it went around. A lot of it stayed, like these verses (marked to me):
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
Now as I look around, it’s mighty plain to see
This world is such a great and a funny place to be;
Oh, the gamblin’ man is rich an’ the workin’ man is poor,
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
NRI angst, small-town angst, big city blues, post-relationship or death-of-a-parent blues, it could be for anybody, give or take a specific.
As to why I think God exists in Woody Guthrie but not in women’s magazines, firstly to tenthly because he played a guitar labeled, ‘This Machine Kills Fascists’ and then because some of his songs are neat (some are dopey and make me impatient now, but hear this one).
His creed as a songwriter sings, it’s got good religion:
“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built. I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.”
This is so subversive of Original Sin and Jewish guilt that I love it (we won’t say a word about Islam with the Taliban breathing hard at the keyhole now).
Question, question, question. We were put on earth to question, not to be spittoons for priests of ANY religion, not men in white frocks with an eye on the curly-headed choir, mullah men, tufty-headed brahminy bulls, that whole pack.
Woody’s words are also unintentionally subversive I think, of the Commercial Male Gaze that puts so much cosmetic and consumer pressure on women through women’s mags and TV ads: “You’re ugly, you’re a dummy, you’re too dark, you’re too fat, you can’t make tofu shashlik in blackbean sauce, your dress sense is the pits.” Pressure, pressure, pressure….unless? Unless you buy this cream, that dress, these shoes, yaka-yaka-yaka.
What I want is to round up all the people who want to improve everybody all the time, give them great tubs of thandaai to drink and send them reeling into the Ganga for a holy dunk off Dasaswamedh Ghat.
Yeah, yeah, I understand about the market and all that. I would be devastated if they stopped making my favourite scent or Skippy peanut butter (the crunchy one). But the pressure? It’s the same kind in both official religion and women’s mags: “You’re useless but we know how to make you better, c’mhere, let me take you over and make you over.”
Woody Guthrie may belong to another ‘zeitgeist’, that fashionable German word for ‘daur ka mood’. But, man, he plucks the right chord sometimes.