Carl Zimring spoke of Woody Guthrie’s conservationism through an analysis of the Depression-era politics and the songs Guthrie wrote, particularly the ones commissioned by the Bonneville Power Administration like “Roll On, Columbia” and “Grand Coulee Dam.”
With a clever framing of Mermaid Avenue, the album where Billy Bragg and Wilco put Guthrie’s long lost lyrics to music, Zimring suggests that the sociopolitical agendas of these contemporary liberal folksters do not overlap with Guthrie’s sentiments about nature. Consistent more with the Bush Administration’s agenda to “work the land,” to use it’s resources to their fullest capabilities (i.e. logging in national forests, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), Guthrie’s beliefs are so clearly part of the populist 30’s ethic that this is obviously an unfair comparison.
Zimring posits that had Guthrie lived through Carson’s Silent Spring or Hurricane Katrina, he may have changed his views on the place that nature should occupy.
But neither can you say with any certainty that Guthrie would have ended up a staunch liberal in this day and age, Zimring was sure emphasize. It was a clear message, that we should not be so quick to adopt presumed agendas from historical figures.
An audience member’s comment on Guthrie’s treatment of Native Americans (he had a very derogatory attitude towards them) brought Zimring to a brick wall. Unable to avoid the fact that even Woody Guthrie had his prejudces, he said that for Guthrie, “Indians, like the salmon, are in the way.”
Speaking of salmon and dams, check this article in today’s New York Times.