I recently finished the docu-drama, Bound for Glory, about Woody Guthrie's life before he came to New York. After I finished watching the movie, I scrolled through my ipod to see what other singers I listen to who would be as equally inciting, political, or the voice of hard working people. Sure, everyone thinks of Bob Dylan, but that time has passed; I kind of think times didn't change at all and they just kept goin'. Everything is so subverted. So there are The Roots, Rage Against the Machine, Arrested Development, Billy Bragg...
I don't know. Maybe we don't need a singer like Guthrie anymore. Hell, iTunes no longer has a folk section; it's now a singer/songwriter section. Just took the people right out of there. When I was a teacher I was supported by a union and all I can say about unions, especially the United Federation of Teachers, is that they are another bureaucracy, another way to keep people down legally, standardized sameness. (The sad part is my job would've been worse, almost makes me barf to image, if I hadn't been "backed" by the union.) Hey UFT, how could you let our government get so test crazy? Really--millions of dollars spent on tests but I couldn't have a computer in my classroom? Sometimes I didn't have enough desks. Maybe we don't need a folk section anymore. Maybe we don't need no Woody Guthrie. Maybe there isn't room anymore for wanderin'. Maybe our existential crisis is just too great.
Well, wait a second. Here's one: Johnny Flynn. He's not as inciting as Guthrie, but he's definitely a noticer. The first song on his album, A Larum, addresses homelessness. Johnny Flynn is empathetic, that's for sure, and warm in a way we all could use warmth. Here's a sample of lyrics from his song, "Shore to Shore":
We listened to passengers stamping old songs
And we lose, what's to lose, when you haven't done wrong
Drums too slow for a funeral beat
No strumming of strings, no stamping of feet...
Hopelessness as hopeful? You may not know by way of the above lyric sampling, but the song I think really takes on how divided the world is (queens and knaves), by those who have and who have not (awfully considerate of you to think of me), and those who want there to be some kind of crossover (she shouldn't be dead/ she was too busy talking). Flynn's sideways realism is there and in "Cold Bread" he says, "I'm a Bowling Green, A delivery boy...In the middle of the morning/ Share your drinking nights with me." No, it doesn't have the NO COMPROMISE attitude that Guthrie had, but maybe it's an updated version. I think Johnny Flynn's songs are really important and his were the first I turned to after watching Woody Guthrie jump trains.
I would like to leave you with these beautiful lyrics, posted on the Guthrie's website:
A folk song is what's wrong and how to fix it or it could be
who's hungry and where their mouth is or
who's out of work and where their job is or
who's broke and where the money is or
who's carrying a gun and where the peace is