“I’m not personally in the money-lending business. It would be against the law for me to lend you money without letting the governor know.”
“Th’ gov’ner? Shucks, me ‘n’ th’ gov’ner’s always goin’ aroun’ with our hands in each other’s pockits. Big friends.” – from “A Fast-Running Train Whistles Down” from “Bound for Glory”
Among other things you can’t do in the Kennedy Center: you can’t take pictures.
I wasn’t even trying to take a picture during the show. I’d arrived at my seat, after finally meeting Andie, my contact at the Grammy Museum who helped get me into so many events for this project. So many that upon meeting, we hugged like old pals.
But even that connection didn’t spare me from getting a tap on the shoulder as I raised my phone to take a photo of the auditorium as people filed in.
“No photography in the Kennedy Center,” the usher sneered.
If Jesus Christ was sitting right here, right now, he’d say this very same dam thing. You just ask Jesus how the hell come a couple of thousand of us living out here in this jungle camp like a bunch of wild animals. You just ask Jesus how many million of other folks are living the same way? Sharecroppers down South, big city people that work in factories and live like rats in slimy slums. You know Jesus’ll say back to you? He’ll tell you we all just mortally got to work together, build things together, fix up old things together, clean out old filth together, put up new buildings, schools and churches, banks and factories together, and own everything together. Sure, they’ll call it a bad ism. Jesus don’t care if you call it socialism or communism, or just me and you. - The Telegram That Never Came” from “Bound for Glory”
A year ago yesterday protestors took to Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District to bring attention to the clutch multinational corporations and financial institutions have on the democratic process. So it seems like a good time to pick up my story of Tom Morello and the Chicago NATO protests that happened four months ago.
Who’s all of these crazy men down there howling out at each other like hyenas? Are these men? Who am I? How come them here? How the hell come me here? What am I supposed to do here?
My ear flat against the tin roof soaked up some music and signing coming from own inside of the car:
“This train don’t carry no rustlers,
Whores, pimps, or side-street hustlers;
This train is bound for glory,
This train.” – “Soldiers in the Dust” from “Bound for Glory”
I haven’t resorted to hopping trains, hobo-style, yet. Woody didn’t hop as many trains as people think. That was a part of the image he cultivated. I can’t remember where I read this, or which lecture said it, but Woody only hopped trains as a last resort, because they were unsafe and uncomfortable.
I like the way that man thought.
In Chicago this weekend, I spent more time than I’d planned on trains, thanks to flippy planning on my part and construction on CTA’s part. Instead of following through with my Saturday plans to see friends, I wound up spending so much time on the under-construction Red Line that, by late afternoon, I was done with people and transportation. I holed up in my hotel until the next morning, when I played construction train shuffle to hit some of my favorite Chicago locales before catching the last Amtrak to St. Louis.
Original plan: ride to Chicago with my friend Aimee – remember her from Oklahoma? – and meet our fellow writer friends Annie and Matt to see Springsteen at Wrigley Field.
“Is this purty close to Chicago?” I was yelling loud as I could.
The little kid put in, “Naa. Dis ain’t ennywheres near Chucago. Dis is Freeport. Tink.”
“Illinois?” I asked him.
“Son, is yore face got as much dirt an’ cinders an’ coal dust on it as mine’s got?”
“How can I tell? I cain’t even see your mug. Too dark.” – “Train Bound for Glory” from “Bound for Glory”
Kickstarter’s over and it’s time to get to work.
I spent last weekend in Chicago, the closest Bruce Springsteen’s coming to me during this project. This was my third Guthrie-linked Chicago trip in less than four months. I’ve written about half of the first trip to see Tom Morello. I’ve written about half of the second trip to see Billy Bragg.
Turns out I can’t write about Springsteen in Chicago without first finishing the previous trips. Funny how that happens when your life is unfolding like a story.
And in the middle of it all, striking Chicago Public School teachers. And NATO protests. And old and new friends. Sausage parties.
I don’t recall having a night in two weeks that ended in more than five hours of sleep. It all hit during this Chicago trip. Brain and body frantically trying to catch up with my schedule. Nine days until Brooklyn. Before then, all my Chicago tales will be told, hopefully with a guest post from a friend with an interesting perspective on the teachers strike. Also hoping I can get my traveling pal Peter to give his perspective on the NATO protests.
In the meantime, I need to write. A lot. Brooklyn’s at the end of the next tunnel.
The Sears Tower, shrouded in storm clouds last Friday night, as seen from Chinatown. Headed to Wrigley for Bruce.
(Don’t forget – still fundraising to finish my research. I’m a smidge over halfway to my goal. Pledge if you can! Spread the word!)
“I been needin’ a little drink ta ease me on down ta Chicago.” I wiped my hand across my face and smiled around at everybody. “I shore thank ya fer thinkin’ ’bout me.” I took the bottle and smelled of the gasoline. Then I sailed the bottle over a dozen men’s heads and out the door.” – “Soldiers in the Dust” from “Bound for Glory”
Obviously, this blog ceased being chronological a long time ago. Events this summer came faster than I could write about them. Not a bad problem for a writer to have, although I’m not thrilled to have things so disjointed.
But sometimes, waiting works. I’ve been trying to write about my trip to Chicago to see Tom Morello on May 19, the night before the NATO convention and ensuing protests for three months, but have been in too much of a dead run capturing other events to do so.
Lucky me – I procrastinated long enough to make my Morello post relevant.
Gen X music nerds (hello) and guitar geeks know Morello as lead guitarist of politically-charged Rage Against the Machine. Here they are in 1999:
Current union supporters and people protesting on behalf of the 99% know him as The Nightwatchman – the personae he uses for his acoustic protest music. He’s been a fixture at Occupy camps and protests and union events.
When I interviewed Sarah Lee Guthrie last April, and saw her aunt, Nora, speak in early May, they both said the same thing about Morello: he’s the current embodiment of Woody Guthrie’s spirit.
Here he is two days before the NATO convention at the National Nurses United Rally in Chicago, after Chicago city and NATO officials almost denied the union their protest permit if Morello attended :
In May I spent eight out of sixteen days traveling, mostly chasing Woody Guthrie-related tributes. It’s been almost two weeks since I returned from my last jaunt, and I’m struggling to articulate where I’ve been and what I did. Just as I’m struggling with what comes next. And struggling to decide if this project is worth more than just my own entertainment.
Turns out, it’s not just for my entertainment. Just when I was on the verge of shutting down, we got our first submission about “Bound for Glory”! My dear friend Kim Gutschmidt’s thoughts on the first chapter will be posted on Monday. Kim’s from Germany by way of Mississippi, and one of the smartest people I know. No doubt she’s going to have some interesting things to say.
This was my view during the third day of the festival while I had my coffee and a perfect strawberry scone from The Bakery Station and did some writing that’ll appear here someday soon. Behind me, bustling little Old Town Salinas. I didn’t get into a vehicle during my entire visit, what with everything being walking distance.
It’s easy to see why Midwesterners in the Great Depression were convinced this was the Promised Land. I didn’t want to leave.