Elements of individualism in the life and selected works of Woody Guthrie

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Sauceda, Jonathan
Carruthers, Silvia

Although the image of Woody Guthrie has often used as a symbol by collectivist leaning groups such as the Communist Party of the United States and the free love movement of the 1960s, and although he has been viewed by scholars as a dogmatic union supporter, an examination of several musical works characteristic of his creative oeuvre demonstrate individualistic traits. Guthrie’s own life, his solitary travels, his lack of concern for the welfare of his own family, his attitude toward financial success, treatment of and by the Communist Party, marriages, military career and final years demonstrate this individualism. His writings, most notably Bound for Glory – his semi-factual autobiography – and Woody Sez – a collection of his articles for a Communist Periodical – also show clear signs of a focus on self-actualization and independence rather than a desire for a Communist Cockaigne. The lyrics of songs characteristic of Guthrie’s preferred topical genres – “Jesse James” and “They Laid Jesus Christ in His Grave,” outlaw, “This Land is Your Land,” travel and “I Ain’t Got No Home,” anti-organized religion – came from an individualistic paradigm. Guthrie’s choices in crafting a musical idiom also reflect individualizing efforts. The easily played keys, chords, forms and rhythms allow a wide variety of individuals to take part in the music and also allowed for many variations on the music and lyrics while retaining the original message. Guthrie’s purposeful crafting of his own image independent of the musical culture both in his hometown and around him also demonstrates his independence. The choice of ultra-portable instrument – guitar – supplemented Guthrie’s rambling, self-reliant mystique.

Table of Content
Thesis (M.Mus.)--Wichita State University, College of Fine Arts, School of Music
Includes bibliographic references (leaves 59-62)