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Seventy-five years ago, Bound for Glory-- the book that literally put an legion of folksingers on the road, was published in 1943. Along with Tony Glover, and Pop Wagner, we're going to bring Woody's autobiographical novel to musical life on Woody Guthrie's Birthday at Crooners Lounge and Supper Club, July 14th, 2018, starting at 6:30 in the Dunsmore Room.
We think we're the first to formally promote and celebrate this iconic book and milestone in the U.S. and hope that others will follow around the country and around the world. We want to not only to sing Woody's songs (that audiences need to hear now more than ever) but to encourage the reading of Bound for Glory again, or maybe for some, for the very first time.
Bob Dylan read Bound for Glory while living in the Dinkytown section of Minneapolis as a student at the University of Minnesota, and almost immediately after finishing it, left for NYC to visit Guthrie in the hospital. The Doubleday/Dolphin paperback edition that Dylan acquired contained an invitation in the Postscript (now long-since edited in later editions) that the young folkie couldn't resist:
"As this edition appears, Woody Guthrie is confined in a hospital suffering from a serious illness that has affected his ability to continue work as a singer and balladeer. But at forty-seven he has accumulated a treasure of songs and is clearly "the best folk ballad composer of or time." His songs --"So Long, It's Been Good To Know You", "This Land Is Your Land", "Pastures of Plenty, "Hard Travelin'", and many others -- have been recorded by numerous folk singers and are widely known and sung....He continues to receive letters and visitors from all over the world. He is truly a legend in his own time."
That Postscript and the book of course, profoundly altered Dylan's life that lead him to remark later: "I thought Bound for Glory was the first On the Road, and of course it changed my life like it changed everyone else's."
The opening scenes, heavy on dialogue, read like a stage play, aboard a railroad freight car -- barreling across Minnesota, Woody sets up the book. Originally from Oklahoma and Texas, and living in NYC when he did most of the writing for Bound for Glory, Guthrie traveled the USA many times, and it's intriguing that he opens and closes the book in Minnesota and the Midwest. Following the opening chapter, Bound for Glory takes off in a series of flashbacks to his childhood; traveling out of California with the "Dust Bowl Refugees"; and what it was like to live in America during the Depression and the opening years of World War II on both the east and west coast of the United States.
Characters abound, in sometimes thinly disguised versions of real people Woody met and sang with. For example, in the chapter entitled "Stormy Night", Woody runs into the "Cisco Kid" playing guitar on a Los Angeles street corner. In real life, the "Kid" was none other than California born Gilbert "Cisco" Houston, Woody's constant companion, roommate, recording artist, and Merchant Marine buddy, during the World War II. Close to the end of the book, this time on the east coast, Woody uses the real name of his friend and benefactor, actor Will Geer, in a engrossing walk with him (and us readers) amid the docks and piers of New York City's Hudson River.
Immigration and minorities, always a buzzword now, are prophetically chronicled, from an African-American character at the opening of the book, to Mexican seamen, and Japanese-American tavern owners. Bound for Glory is a mix, of documentary-like-almost-photographic recall; and fiction where it suited the author. Woody wrote the book in sections as he worked and traveled around, sometimes writing 35 single-spaced typed pages overnight. The book was edited some say by half, with a subsequent book published after his death entitled Seeds of Man, that was originally part of Bound for Glory manuscript.
The original edition of Bound for Glory is aptly illustrated by Woody's line drawings, which have been faithfully carried over in subsequent editions. What has always been puzzling to me is that the front cover of the original edition dust jacket bears no resemblance to what is depicted inside. The jacket shows a man leaving home, a wife and child, seeing him off, but Woody does not at any time in the book write of his character with either a marriage or children. (He was separated from his real-life wife and three children at the time of publication.) A well-known portrait by photographer Robin Carson illustrates the back cover of the dust jacket. Woody's sketches are much better in my opinion, than what Dutton accepted for the all-important cover art. Subsequent paperback versions of the book have been only somewhat better, with only one out-of-print paper edition actually carrying Woody's artwork on the front.
The early '40's and the war years will figure in the concert program. By the time Bound for Glory was published in February of 1943, the Second World War was in full swing. Following publication of the book, Woody along with Houston, and another buddy Jimmy Longhi, signed up together in the U.S. Merchant Marine. (Woody's attempt to chronicle his experiences in World War II in a new book he entitled Ship Story came to naught.) Their first Liberty Ship, the William B. Travis, took them from Hoboken, New Jersey to Sicily in the Mediterranean. Shortly after unloading a cargo of gasoline and two-ton bombs, the "Willie Bee" as Woody called his first ship, was torpedoed somewhere between Sicily and the North African coast. Luckily, the Travis was not carrying an explosive cargo on that particular trip, and the ship limped into Tunis before sinking in the harbor.
Returning to New York on another ship, Woody had time to sign a few autographed copies of Bound for Glory before taking another berth with Houston and Longhi on the William Floyd which turned out to be a relatively uneventful trip back to Africa. His last ship, the Sea Porpoise, carried three thousand soldiers to support the D-Day Invasion. Around D-Plus 30, or early July, the Porpoise finally unloaded the men into landing craft off the Norman coast just before being hit by an acoustic mine and had to be towed to Southampton, England. As the U.S. Merchant Marine suffered the most casualties of any service including the U.S. Marine Corps in proportion to it's numbers, its amazing that Woody and his shipmates were never in a lifeboat or worse during the time German U-Boat "Wolf packs" and minelayers roamed the Atlantic shipping lanes.
Woody Guthrie never was able to publish another full-length novel in his lifetime. There were a number of reasons perhaps, maybe it was the War, or not having a near-constant collaborative editor to smooth and connect his prose on an everyday basis. Though Seeds of Man which was originally part of Bound for Glory, and House of Earth, published recently, stand alone pretty well, Bound for Glory has an arc and an insight into the traveling folksinger lifestyle that have captured the imaginations of so many musicians. Something the other two published books lack. Woody never seemed to be able to duplicate the satisfaction and accomplishment he felt with Bound for Glory. Biographers point to the early onset of Huntington's Disease as a possible cause, and that might certainly be the case, but what Woody needed was a stable personal life, and a writer's discipline--the kind of regular-everyday work that gets books finished. Unfortunately Woody simply did not have much experience with that kind of stability, and the sheer amount of inspiration, distraction, and ideas his mind churned up on any given day, seemingly prevented him from staying on any one topic long enough to develop it's full potential.
Woody Guthrie was only 30 years old when Bound for Glory was released, and had a scant twenty-five years left to live. Had Huntington's Disease not claimed him at age 55 in 1967, the world of Folk Music, Literature, and the definition of "the American Spirit" as John Steinbeck called Woody's unique world view, may have certainly grown and changed beyond what we know. However, what keeps us riveted on Woody Guthrie is not what he could have accomplished, but the ever-timely, and enduring writing in prose, and in song organized or not, that flowed from the ink of his pen and typewriter during almost every waking hour.
I hope you'll join us this summer to hear Woody's words and music, and until then, pick up a copy of Bound for Glory. Follow me on Facebook to learn the latest news on when tickets will be available.