Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Woody, I'm Sorry To Tell You, Nothing's Changed

Before I get into my recipe for peach pie I'm going to make you sit through a Woody Guthrie song. I love Woody Guthrie. He was an important voice in American music. Some of Woody was authentic, some of it he just made up. He wrote simple, direct songs that still resonate today because they speak the truth.

When Woody wrote this song he had just finished the Northern California Peach harvest. Woody and the other Dust Bowl Okies were working right alongside the illegal Mexicans. The thing was that right after the harvest, and right before payday, they rounded up all the Mexican workers (both legal and illegal) and deported them. This time, over Los Gatos, the plane caught fire and crashed killing everyone aboard.

Woody told Pete Seger that the Juan, Rosalita, and Jesus y Maria mentioned in the chorus were people he knew, worked along side of, shared food and music with and were now dead. Woody also said he cried every time he performed this song.

I wish I could tell Woody that things were better now. They aren't. So, I do what I can. I pick my own peaches. I belong to a group that keeps water stations out in the desert in the faint hope that someone won't have to die of thirst to service the insanity that they call policy. We also have had to start guarding our stations and testing the water on a regular basis to ensure that the sick racist fucks that call themselves "minute men" haven't salted or otherwise poisoned the water.

Here's the tune.

(Woody Guthrie)

The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting
The oranges are filed in their creosote dumps
They're flying 'em back to the Mexico border
To take all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Roselita
Adios mi amigo, Jesus y Maria
You won't have no name when you ride the big airplane
All they will call you will be deportee

My father's own father, he waded that river
They took all the money he made in his life
It's six hundred miles to the Mexico border
And they chased them like rustlers, like outlaws, like thieves


The skyplane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon
The great ball of fire it shook all our hills
Who are these dear friends who are falling like dry leaves?
Radio said, "They are just deportees"


Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can raise our good crops?
To fall like dry leaves and rot on our topsoil
And be known by no names except "deportees"

(CHORUS and fade) *

*performance note: I like to fade this one out by dropping instruments and voices one by one to end with a solo concertina or violin.

I deported this post over to Big Brass Blog


Blogger Pogo said...

Woody was a wonderful songwriter and a great human being - it'sno wonderhe sired such a good kid in Arlo.

I posted a response on your prior thread. Now about that peach pie recipe...

11:48 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

peach pie will be coming out tonight

2:32 PM  
Blogger Tata said...

One of these days, if we are very lucky, the American people will discover American history.

I could swear I recently heard Emmylou Harris sing "Deportees". Maybe that was more a wish than a memory.

3:25 PM  
Blogger Tata said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:25 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

i'm sure it's in emmylou's repitoire. i can't imagine a world where she would not sing this one. i have heard her do other woody guthrie songs before. american's lack of curiosity about their own history has puzzled me for a long time. the man who wrote "lies your teacher told you" hit on it perfectly. he said that a college history professor has one of the hardest jobs in academia because the first task they have before them is the unteaching of all the bullshit that has been shoved down people's throats. somewhere along the line we decided that history class should be about chanting "u.s.a! u.s.a!" and not aobut actual learning. i think that that very fact might be part of the problem as far as generating the interest. after all why waste time on learning the bullshit? especially when should you show initiative and seek out your own sources the knowledge will not apply in the through the looking glass world of the classroom. i found my interest in history was formed while i was in the service. i couldn't buy the reasons they gave us for our involvement in viet nam and set myself to studying the history of the region. i concluded that we had no real interest at stake there, and that the situation, regardless of any american action was pretty untenable. since then i've been a history reading fool. to paraphrase santyanna and the old reagan era bumpersticker "those who do not remember the past are doomed to keep voting republican."

9:50 PM  
Blogger BadTux said...

I love this song. I don't cover other people's songs very often, but this is one that I do. I use Arlo Guthrie's recording as my guide, since nobody is quite sure how Woodie sung it -- he never recorded it, he entered the hospital soon after he wrote it with the disease that eventually killed him (Huntington's).

This is a song, like the "Thank god I'm fixing to die rag", that unfortunately is as relevant today as the day it was written...


5:05 PM  
Blogger maurinsky said...

This song was performed in a weekend airing of the Prairie Home Companion...at least, it ran this weekend in these parts. I'm not sure who was singing it, I think one of the PHC regulars.

5:26 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

Arlo's version is about as good as it can get. One thing I admire about it is that he doesn't make the mistake of going plural and singing "adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria" which while very understandable is not in keeping with Woody's manuscript. Unless you're familiar enough with Mexican people to know that Jesus y Maria is a very common name (remember the Jesus and Mary of Cannery Row?). Along with Refugio de Jesus and several others which all get shortened down to Jesus or Chuey. It is easy and understandable that somebody editing an Okie like Woody would just assume that he was talking about two people and change the stuff so it is grammatically correct.

I'm glad that there are more people finding and doing this song. It's one of my favorites.

11:28 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

soon I'm planning a post on "This Land is Your Land" which a lot of folks don't know is a protest song. It's an angry song written in response to that trite Irving Berlin "God Bless America." There are a couple of pretty radical verses which almost never get sung. Before he died Woody made Arlo promise to sing the whole song when he sung it.

11:30 PM  

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