Last New Years Eve, my friend Scott Allen wrote about Woody Guthrie's upcoming centennial. When I read it, I was in the passenger seat of my family's car, headed to a party. "We should do something for his bday," I said to Scott on Twitter. "Maybe get other music writers to read 'Bound for Glory' and write about it?"
The idea survived the night of revelry; it was my first waking thought of 2012. How to get people to look at Woody Guthrie beyond "This Land is Your Land," because he was so much more than that.
I started a blog, Bound for Glory 100, and encouraged people to read the book and write their responses. I read the book and started looking at Guthrie's words in a new light.
In March, the first Woody at 100 event was held in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Why not cover the symposium and tribute concert for St. Louis' Riverfront Times? Sure! While I'm at it, how about writing a cover story for the Monterey County Weekly about the connection between Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck, and how their influence continues today? Sure! Two Chicago trips to see local musicians paired with Tom Morello on the eve of the NATO summit, and another to hear Billy Bragg discuss the work involved in carrying on Guthrie's legacy? Of course! And who wouldn't want to go to Guthrie's hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma on the eve of his birthday, and see Billy Bragg perform a bunch of Guthrie's songs? Of course I went. Then I hustled back home to St. Louis for two Guthrie tributes: one in photos, the other in song.
This isn't about writing book reports about "Bound for Glory" anymore. This is about chasing Woody Guthrie one hundred years after his birth to first-hand experience his influence. Talk to the people who are directly carrying his legacy, from street buskers to Guthrie's daughter Nora. And explore how his influence has shaped my life, which I didn't realize until I fell backwards into Woody's world.
The blog is no longer the ends. It's the beginning - the rough first draft of the book I'm writing about my year with Woody Guthrie. If you'd like to see the outline or proposal, feel free to ask.
"Are you getting paid to do this?"
I've been asked this question repeatedly. By strangers. Not that it's any of their business, but the answer is usually no. I got paid for the first few articles I wrote for the Riverfront Times and the Monterey County Weekly, and I've been able to use my press credentials to obtain passes to some events. Mostly, this project has been a personal investment of time and my own money. Both are finite resources.
I'm nearing the end of my research ... and my resources. In order to complete my project I need to fund research at the final Woody at 100 events (one day at symposiums in Brooklyn, two days at symposiums in Washington D.C.), as well as the time necessary to complete the manuscript and shop for a literary agent. These are full-time jobs in and of themselves.
As a freelance writer, I have passed on many paying jobs in order to pursue this research, knowing these opportunities won't present themselves again. It's been well worth the sacrifice. But now I need your help to bring my project to completion.
- (22 days)