Lawrence Downes: As Woody Turns 100, We Protest Too Little
Lawrence Downes is a member of the editorial board of The New York Times.
In October the Kennedy Center will throw a centennial party for Woody Guthrie, a star-studded concert with tickets topping out at $175. It will be America’s ultimate tribute to a beloved troubadour. “Through his unique music, words and style,” the Kennedy Center says, “Guthrie was able to bring attention and understanding to the critical issues of his day.”
Poor Woody. The life and music of America’s great hobo prophet, its Dust Bowl balladeer, boiled down to this: He brought attention to the critical issues of his day.
Maybe that’s what happens to dissidents who are dead long enough. They are reborn for folk tales and children’s books and PBS pledge drives. They become safe enough for the Postal Service. “For a man who fought all his life against being respectable, this comes as a stunning defeat,” Arlo Guthrie said in 1998, when his father was put on a 32-cent stamp....
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