Bound For Glory
Fire showed him young there are some servants
you can't trust, like the machine
of mind, a servant wanting only
to be master, to take more
than it could ever give; even giving life
each day, and all the things of life,
its dear ambitions always yearn
towards your disaster.
It took his home and sister
as a child, when mother's hands
left off tucking in and washing clothes
and turned to burning rafters
when mother's mind
turned to burning coal
in fire her father
Later he ruled the road
by having nothing, sleeping cold
on the floor, no trust for the soft
trap of a stranger's bed.
He came to live on Mermaid Avenue,
played, wrote, sang, laughed; he held his children.
But fire and madness chased him
just the same, from town to town,
woman to woman, bed to bed, and found him
and found him.
At last they took his daughter, his songs, his arm,
burned to bare bone at the drunken campfire.
He never played guitar again, the machine
would never kill another fascist, though
behind him he dropped
a thousand flowering bombs;
still, in the end
stiff and locked in his head
in the hard white hospital bed,
I wonder what else he could have done
but sing and run.
"Some will rob you with a six gun
and some with a fountain pen...'
He was a lefty to the bone, and worked tirelessly and with great humor and grace in the cause of justice and fairness for all. He wrote hundreds of songs which have become part of our common sense of who we are as a people, (most famously This Land is Your Land) and which influenced a generation or two of musicians. He married three times, loved children and had 8, including Arlo Guthrie and his siblings, who escaped the disease (children from his second marriage to Marjorie Greenblatt Mazia, a dance instructor at the Martha Graham School in New York.) There also were several from his first and last marriage who died in various accidents at a relatively early age, possibly due to the effects of of Huntington's, and one, a young daughter with Marjorie, who died at 4, also in a fire.
His best and most productive years were spent on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, with Marjorie (who, though divorced,later came back when his third wife left him, and tended him till he died) and their four surviving children. In the early fifties, the disease was eating him up, and his arm was burned so severely by gasoline used to start a campfire that he never played the guitar again. He was hospitalized in 1956 and spent the remainder of his life institutionalized, until he died in 1967.
Woody's autobiography, published in 1943, was titled Bound For Glory. The legend that he never slept in a bed while bumming around as it would 'make him soft' is verbal and may be apocryphal.
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Images: The Guthrie house in Okemah, Oklahoma, where Woody was born
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