Will Kaufman | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Will Kaufman 

Telling the story of Woody Guthrie

Pin It
Favorite
Will Kaufman
  • Will Kaufman

Author, teacher and musician Will Kaufman grew up with Woody Guthrie records, and his family listened to a steady diet of “Woody’s children”—folkies like Joan Baez. But Kaufman didn’t share his parents’ folk inclinations; he was more into bluegrass.

Later, as a professor at England’s University of Central Lancashire, he “came back to Woody with a vengeance,” with Kaufman using Guthrie’s words to deflect his European friends’ criticisms of post-9/11 America.

“The global hatred for America that the likes of Dick Cheney and [Donald] Rumsfeld and [George] Bush were inviting with every utterance, you could cut it with a knife,” Kaufman said in an interview with City Weekly. “It was around 2006 that I began to cast about, desperately, for an alternative American voice to broadcast, in whatever meager way I could—the voice of another America. And it was Woody’s voice that I seized on.”

Kaufman toured Europe with a “live musical documentary,” telling Guthrie’s story, playing his songs and showing images of 1930s America that inspired those songs. He won a BMI-Woody Guthrie Fellowship in 2008, which he used to study at the Woody Guthrie Archives in New York City and write his new book, Woody Guthrie, American Radical.

The fellowship gave Kaufman access to “hundreds of letters and literally thousands of song lyrics,” as well as unpublished essays, novels and plays, drawings and unreleased recordings.

Kaufman found that Guthrie wasn’t necessarily the equal of his public image as “America’s favorite hobo.” In reality, he carefully cultivated his working-class image as an “Okie.” Guthrie’s politics, though, were anything but a sham. “He considered himself a communist, at least with a small ‘c,’” Kaufman said. “To his dying day, he was dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism, and he was quite explicit about that.”

Toward the end of his life, Guthrie’s radicalism was downplayed by historians and the culture at large in post-McCarthy America.

Kaufman, for one, is trying to re-introduce the radical Guthrie.

“There’s so much myth and build-up that needs to be cut through when it comes to Guthrie—‘national treasure,’ ‘folk icon,’ ‘Dust Bowl troubadour,’ all that stuff,” Kaufman said. “He was a politically committed individual who got profoundly angry at the degradation and injustice he saw all around him, and he tried to fight it the best he could, with the only weapons he had, which were his voice, his guitar, his songs and his energy.”

WILL KAUFMAN: WOODY GUTHRIE, AMERICAN RADICAL
Salt Lake City Main Library Auditorium
210 E. 400 South
Thursday, July 28 , 7 p.m.
Free

Pin It
Favorite

Speaking of Articles, City Weekly

  • Culture Clash

    What began as a romance between the children of two Afghan families soon spiraled into violence and tragedy
    • Apr 9, 2014
  • Hollywood Vengeance

    Local director Gil Medina says he owns actor Danny Trejo and is suing Robert Rodriguez for $11 million to prove it
    • Apr 2, 2014
  • Best of Utah 2014: Dine & Drink

    Best Pizza Este Pizzeria Pizza is a very personal thing. And for true pizza enthusiasts, the pursuit of the perfect pizza is never-ending. Well, for aficionados searching out thin-crust,
    • Mar 26, 2014
  • More »

More by Dan Nailen

  • Too High to Die

    Youthful indiscretion leads to a lifelong obsession with the Meat Puppets.
    • Mar 22, 2017
  • Life-Changing Experience

    Hendrix tribute brings Jimi's old bass player and amazing cast of guitarists to Utah.
    • Mar 1, 2017
  • Him Again

    Howard Jones is an '80s icon, Utah stalker and a one-man gateway to synth-pop's glories.
    • Jul 6, 2016
  • More »

Latest in Music

  • Rockin' and Rustlin'

    The headliners for Utah Beer Festival's after-parties know how to bring the good times.
    • Aug 14, 2019
  • From Busk Till Dawn

    Busker Fest celebrates the vitality street performance brings to a city.
    • Aug 7, 2019
  • Why Do We Karaoke?

    I stopped into four very different SLC bars to see what I could find—which turned out to be a lot of questions about the solitude of the stage and the camaraderie of being part of the audience.
    • Jul 31, 2019
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Trending in the Alternative Press

Readers also liked…

  • Logan's Luthier

    At $8,000, Ryan Thorell's hand-crafted guitars have a dedicated following.
    • May 16, 2018
  • Cool and Clean

    James the Mormon brings a unique flavor to hip-hop with his faith.
    • May 30, 2018

© 2019 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation