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Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies Web Site & Blog

Tag Archives: Woody Guthrie

Skin Trouble, 1943

An excerpt read from Woody Guthrie’s book Bound for Glory; as relevant now as when he published it in 1943.

This is included in an event we planned to celebrate Guthrie’s music, life and writings.

— DA

P.S. Please see the following written text for the excerpt.

While we walked away, holding our faces to the slight breath of air that was moving across the yards, he asked , ‘Say your name was?’

I said, ‘Woody.’

‘Mine’s Brown. Glad ta meet you, Woody. You know I’e run onto this skin color before.’ He walked long the cinders.

‘Skin trouble. That’s a damn good name for it. ‘ I walked along beside him.

‘Hard to cure it after it gets started, too. I was born and raised in a country that’s got all kinds of diseases, and this skin trouble is the worst on of the lot,’ he told me.

‘Bad,’ I answered him.

‘I got sick and tired of that kind of stuff when I was just a kid growing up at home. You know. God, I had hell with some of my folks about things like that. But, seems like, little at a time, I’d sort of convince them, you know; lots of folks I never could convince. They’re kind of like the old bellyache fellow, they cause a lot of trouble to a hundred people. and then to a thousand people, all on account of just some silly, crazy notion. Like you can help what color you are. Goddamit all. Why do’t they spend that same amount of time and trouble doing something good…?

— Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory pg. 221

Woody & Marjorie 9-5 and 9-6 Show Dates Canceled

We have canceled the Woody & Marjorie:  Hard Traveling show dates scheduled September 5th and 6th at the Omni William Penn in Pittsburgh.

Woody & Marjorie: Hard Traveling

On Labor Day weekend 2015, the Omni William Penn hotel in Pittsburgh presents a celebration of Woody Guthrie’s songs and stories to honor Southwestern Pennsylvania workers past and present. ‘Woody & Marjorie: Hard Traveling’, combines live music and readings centered around the lives of Woody Guthrie and his wife Marjorie Mazia.Woody Guthrie was an iconic musician of the 1930s and 40s. Marjorie Mazia danced with the Martha Graham Company in the 1940s. Guthrie and Mazia had a passionate relationship marked by creativity and true devotion, despite his restless wanderings and the losses and struggles they faced together. The show pays tribute to the uniqueness and continued relevance of his work in helping us find the individual and collective stories that connect more than divide us.
Woody Marjorie  HT Image Contrast
‘Woody & Marjorie: Hard Traveling’ is presented in partnership with Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies as part of a special Omni Labor Day package that includes Saturday dinner or Sunday brunch in the hotel’s Terrace Room. Recommended for ages 16 and up. For more information about the show please call 412-353-3756. For event information and reservations, please contact the Omni William Penn at 412-553-5235.

Is It Live, Memorex or Youtube?

Excellent article in the Irish Times about digital replication (streaming) of music and art vs. live performance and presentation.[1]

Woody Guthrie, troubadour of the American dustbowl in the 30s (who had a thing or two to say about labor, exploitation and music) observed “… electric fonagrafts an’ radeos an’ talkies has fixed it where you put a nickle in an’ one or two musicians entertains hundreds or thousends of people, an’ hole armies of well talented folks goes beggin.” [sic]

His complaint preceded Facebook and Youtube. The dilemma now as then is how to reward and support those who honor their artistic muse when the prevailing commercial and consumer trend is to turn her solely into a commodity, if not a whore. Our organization (ALCStudies.org) promotes live spoken-word and musical events (e.g., live radio and lectures). We believe the Web can digitize and duplicate the simulacra[2], but never replace the immanence (and sacredness) of connecting human beings through the gift of live art, including music, dance and the spoken-word. People hunger for that experience still, which is as old as civilization. The Gaelic and Celtic cultures gave us some of the greatest examples. Just ask Ossian (or at least James Macpherson) ; – ).

Speaking of exploitation, see an article on emotional labor at FastCompany.com

— DA


[1] *Memorex, orginator of a famous casette tape television commercial featuring singer Ella Fitzgerald, filed for bankruptcy in 1996.

 [2] Thanks to artist Chris McGinnis for introducing this term: …The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true. – Jean Baudrillard

What’s Old Is New: ‘The Thin Man’ in the ‘Burgh Dec. 15th & 16th

In 1934 the fiscal cliff wasn’t just looming. The country had fallen off the edge five years before. Oklahoma was suffering through dust storms of Biblical proportion.  John Steinbeck was taking notes on Okies fleeing to the promised land of California, only to be turned away. Woody Guthrie was singing for hobos and migrant workers (the lowest of the ninety-nine percent then) and starting to wonder whose land it was.

That year a film called The Thin Man appeared, based on a story by Dashiell Hammett. Cinema-goers suffering through the Depression were treated to glamour and glitter mixed in with the seamier side life — all leavened with a healthy dose of  humor.  Nick Charles  is a ‘retired’ and restless former gumshoe married to Nora, a rich heiress. Nick and Nora engage in playful  repartee that any married couple might envy today, as Nora tries to persuade her husband to return to sleuthing and ‘detecting’; things he enjoyed doing and did well (and which presumably attracted her to him).

For the live radio adaptation Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies is sponsoring December 15th and 16th at the Carnegie Library of Homestead, we have brought Nick and Nora to the Smokey City (as it was before Renaissance I and II), where actor William Powell, who played Nick in the film, was born. Rather than the Normandie in New York City, we put them up in a suite at the William Penn in downtown Pittsburgh during the week between Christmas and New Year. If Nora had taken a different path in life, she might have mingled with the Mellons, Scaifes and other members of Pittsburgh’s one percent. With Nick, however, she is introduced to sandwiches with French fries ‘that truck drivers eat’ and pierogies. She meets the lowlifes and high-fliers he  worked with as a detective in the Rocks and on the Hill, or sent up the river (or perhaps rivers, since there are three in Pittsburgh). Nora adores her Nicky and the ‘lovely people’ he knows, hoodlums and society dames with rough edges and false charm. A surprising equality exists between Nick & Nora. She is at least his equal in wit and repartee – if not in her ability to put away martinis.

The original story is a good bit grittier than the film it inspired, and presents a stew of murder, intrigue and archetypes which Hammett (along with Raymond Chandler) originated. These have become staples to the present day in detective novels, film noir and television shows such CSI.  They include an eccentric scientist, a gold digger, an egghead/nerd and hard-boiled cops. ‘You got types?’ Nora asks Nick. ‘Only pretty brunettes with wicked jaws,’ he wisely replies. To these we’ve taken the liberty of  adding a few yinzers, jagoffs, n’ ‘at.

'Waiter, please serve the jagoffs.'‘Waiter, please serve the jagoffs.’ (L-R John Seibel, Chuck Lanigan, Mark Tierno, Jon Rohlf from the TMP cast)

Characters imbibe alcohol prodigiously in both the movie and the novella. The latter, which Hammett first serialized in (of all places) Redbook Magazine contains an undertone of dissipation and boredom, if not desperation, befitting the times. Ingénues take their first precipitous step toward ruin (speaking of cliffs). Relationships have soured. Bodies rot beneath the concrete floor. The film plays it all for laughs and adventure. Most of the lowlifes and jagoffs have hearts of gold, and we go along. Except for a single line from Dorothy in the beginning about her concern for people losing their jobs, you would hardly know there was a Depression.

In 1934 Pittsburgh was suffering the economic ravages with the rest of the country. People on their way to the Fulton (now the Byham) to attend the film passed their neighbors selling apples and standing in line at soup kitchens (and perhaps did so themselves). There were a few bright notes:  Prohibition had just been lifted. Duquesne Gardens in the East End was scene of sporting events such as Hornets ice hockey and prize fights. ‘Winter Wonderland’ appeared on the charts that year. By that date populist preacher Father Coughlin was broadcasting to 30-million people  and the first live radio orchestra broadcast had debuted from the William Penn. Wylie Avenue in the Hill hosted jazz luminaries such as Erroll Garner, Mary Lou Williams, Earl Hines and Billy Strayhorn

Our goal in adapting the script is to pay homage to the original film, retaining its flavor, dialogue and humor updated with a taste of the ‘burgh. Staging the event as a radio show for a live audience seems appropriate in the town where commercial radio originated. We hope you enjoy the experience virtually or in person.  Please contact us with questions. See the following for information on scheduling and tickets. — CDL

‘The Thin Man’ Comes to Pittsburgh
Carnegie Library of Homestead Music Hall
Saturday December 15th 7:30 PM, Sunday December 16th 2:00 PM
Tickets $10 credit card online at Artful.ly or cash at the door

You will also find information at ALCStudies Current and Upcoming Events.

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