There’s A Feeling In Music

There’s a feeling in music and it carries you back down the road you have traveled and makes you travel it again. Or it takes you back down the road somebody else has come and you can look out across the world from the hill they are standing on.

Sometimes when I hear music I think back over my days — and a feeling that is fifty-fifty joy and pain swells like clouds taking all kinds of shape in my mind. If it is joy it is of such a treasured sort and such a fine make that the thought of its passing is near to pain — and you can see how pain has paid you a profit in its own strange way — and the joy of the sadness is like a raindrop falling in the sun.

Music is on the radio — I notice that as I listen, I think of my mistakes, ill words, wasted time, and the next note I think of who I love and who I hate and the success I’ve had at both and of my tomorrow’s chances. And I feel like a singing god riding on a cloud snapping my fingers and ruling a universe.

Music is a tone of voice, the sound life uses to keep the living alive. They call us back many times a day from the brinks of torture — the holes of superstition. There never was a sound that was not music — there’s no real trick of creating words to set to music — once you realize that the word is the music and the people are the song.

I Hate A Song

I hate a song that makes you think you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim. Too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I’m out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you.

I could hire out to the other side, the big-money side, and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own songs and to sing the kind that knock you down farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think you’ve not got any sense at all. But I decided a long time ago that I’d starve to death before I’d sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no-good songs as that anyhow.

This Is Our Country Here

This is our country here as far as you can see no matter which way you walk or no matter what spot of it you stand on.

And when you have crossed her as many times as I have you will see as many ugly things about her as pretty things.

You will hear whole gangs of travelers and settlers arguing about her — what she is, how she come to be, what you are supposed to do here. And you will hear some argue at you that she is so beautiful you are supposed to spend your life just feeling her pretty parts, sucking in her sweetest breezes and tasting her fairest odors, looking at her brightest-colored scenes, and I would say that gang has the wrong notion.

And there are some bunches that tell you she is all ugly and all dirty, that there is nothing good about her, nothing free, nothing clean, that she is all slums, shacks, rot, filth, stink, and bad odors, loud words of bitter flavors. Well, this herd is big and I heard them often and I heard them loud, but I come to think that they too was just as wrong as the first outfit, because I seen the pretty and I seen the ugly and it was because I knew the pretty part that I wanted to change the ugly part, because I hated the dirty part that I knew how to feel the love for the cleaner part. I looked in a million of her faces and eyes, and I told myself there was a look on that face that was good, if I could see it there, in back of all of the shades and shadows of fear and doubt and ignorance and tangles of debts and worries, and I guess it is these things that make our country look all lopsided to some of us, lopped over onto the good and easy side or over onto the bad and the hard side.

I know that the people that run our desks and offices got so full of the desire to grab enough money to run away and hide on that they let this thought run them, instead of the bigger plan. Well, this has always been a hard word to say, but it could very truly be that our office people are doing the best they know how to do, but we had ought to teach ourselves better and higher than this before we run ourselves and put ourselves into our offices.

It Don’t Even Have To Rhyme

Poor day today. Didn’t write but three Union Songs. Oh, well, that’ll keep the deputy songwriters busy another six months. Pete’s even taking a whack at song making. He plowed out a couple yesterday. You know, you are as good a songwriter as there is, but you might not believe it. If you don’t believe it, that’s why you’re not. All you got to do is to set down and write up what’s wrong and how to fix it. That’s all there is to it. Lord knows there is plenty of matter to work on. All we need is more songwriters. You, for instance. Naw, come on, it don’t even have to rhyme. Don’t even have to be spelt right. All you got to do is just cut loose and let her roll out on paper, and when you get down something that’s haywire and how to fix it, you got a song. Best part is, you don’t even have to be able to hum, whistle, or sing. You just got to speak it. That’s all. Just whale away and yell it right out. Loud as you can. So somebody else can hear what’s haywire and how to fix it. Then you got a song. Every word is a music note of some kind, so everything you yell is a song. Geetars and banjos ain’t what makes the world go ’round. It’s talkin’ songs, and yellin’ songs — and the best song, you don’t even have to yell it. You just double up your fists, roll up your sleeves, and thump it out — on any convenient silk hat.

Have You Ever Heard It?

Organ grinder down on the street below my window, grinding out “The Sidewalks of New York.”

Mighty purty song.

Lots of folks here, just like the West Coast, a-grinding and a-grinding away, a-trying to grind out an honest living.

This grinding is a mighty big organ, and out of all of our grinding is goin’ to come a song.

Out of all of our hard work, and low pay, and tired backs, and empty pocketbooks is goin’ to come a tune.

And that song and that tune ain’t got no end, and it ain’t got no notes wrote down and there ain’t no piece of paper big enough to put it down on. Every day you are down and out, and lonesome, and hungry, and tired of workin’ for a hobo’s handout, there’s a new verse added to the song.

Every time you kick a family out of a house, ’cause they ain’t got the rent, and owe lots of debts, why, there’s another verse added to this song.

When a soldier shoots a soldier, that’s a note to this song. When a cannon blows up twenty men, that’s part of the rhythm, and when soldiers march off over the hill and don’t march back, that’s the drumbeat of this song.

This ain’t a song you can write down and sell.

This song is everywhere at the same time.

Have you ever heard it?

I have.


“There’s a Feeling in Music,” words by Woody Guthrie, music by Rob Wasserman and Don Heffington. © Copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. / Steep Music / Wixen Music Publishing. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

“I Hate a Song,” written by Woody Guthrie. © Copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

“This Is Our Country Here,” written by Woody Guthrie. © Copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

“It Don’t Even Have to Rhyme” and “Have You Ever Heard It?” written by Woody Guthrie, excerpted from “That Tune Told His Story.” © Copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.