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Woody Guthrie: “Hard Travelin'”

The photos in the clip above were taken for the Farm Services Administration by John Vachon.

This is Woody Guthrie’s centennial year, which is unfortunately appropriate considering the drought that is decimating large portions of the country.Yesterday, The New York Times ran a commentary on Guthrie, one of the two or three most iconic musicians in American history.

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.

Will Kaufman’s book “Woody Guthrie, American Radical” tried to set the record straight last year. The sentimental softening and warping of Woody’s reputation began early, even as he was dying, in the 1960s. But under the saintly folk hero has always been an angry vigilante — a fascist-hating, Communist-sympathizing rabble-rouser who liked to eviscerate his targets, sometimes with violent imagery. He was a man of many contradictions, but he was always against the rich and on the side of the oppressed.

American Memory has a huge archive and biographies and other materials are at PBS and woodyguthrie.com.

Most important, of course, is the music: Here are The Ludlow Massacre, Talking Dust Bowl Blues, The Grand Coulee and, of course, This Land is Your Land.

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Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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