Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Will Kaufman on Woody Guthrie

Last night I went down to the uni to listen to Will talk about, and sing some of the songs of, Woody Guthrie.

I've been to see Will once before, and found his blend of talk, slides and songs to be both entertaining, informative and interesting. He has developed a knack of blending visual and auditory information very well. I wish I'd done one of his modules!

I've loved folk-type, and "message" music for decades (though I don't feel old enough to be able to say that), singing along with Bert Jansch, and Peter, Paul and Mary before I left school. Although I know some of Woody's works, I knew nothing about the man himself, nor his motivation.

Will told of Woody's life with a father who was closely associated with the Klu Klux Klan, racism surrounded him as he grew. He narrated sad tales of racial murder, showing a slide of a postcard made from a photograph of a negro couple who had been summarily executed by hanging; their bodies suspended from ropes tied to the spars of a mighty bridge. Their crime? Their teen-age son had shot a policeman who called at the house; he subsequently bled to death. The boy had fired at the policeman through fear - bad things always came of "officials" calling at the house. Their true crime would appear to have been black in colour, and to have lived in an era and state which believed the "black man" to be only one stage removed from animal, and treated him as such.

It's so hard to believe that such a relatively short time ago, we treated our fellow man in this heinous manner. Sadly, some people, who would consider themselves to be intelligent, maintain the fiction that the colour of our skins is an indication of our worth as human beings. I suppose I'm lucky; I was brought up in Bradford, Yorkshire, and don't really remember a time when it wasn't a mixed race city. Different colours of skin, different languages and cultures were all around me.

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