Woody Guthrie:  West Village Rebel With a Cause

WOODY GUTHRIE LIVED IN THREE APARTMENTS in the West Village in the 1940s. He spent more time in the Village than anywhere in New York. Photo credit: Al Aumiller/Wikipedia.

By Bruce Poli

“Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,

Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;

You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane. 

All they will call you will be deportees”…

What ‘community’ history most reminds you of Greenwich Village? Would that be the music scene?

Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, Dave Van Ronk, Maria Muldaur, John Sebastian, David Amram, Phil Ochs, Neil Diamond, Peter Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger

…Woody Guthrie?

There is no folk/rock/pop/blues progression in American music without Washington Square Park and all the great figures we associate with the mythical Village of the 1960s.

The legendary folk music scene has in many ways defined the bohemian Greenwich Village mantra. By that I mean these legends of music history who gave rise to the magnetism of the Village character. 

Not to in any way diminish the great theatre, poetry, jazz, literary and visual arts, the politics, the parties, but the music gave rise to the Washington Square scene that lingers as the memory of it all. It set a certain bohemian ‘standard’ we try to embrace.

So, yes, one West Village resident from 1942-3 at 74 Charles Street (right across the street from WestView publisher George Capsis) was in reality the father of it all…Woody Guthrie.

And you know, New York has a way of encompassing our culture and reflecting it out to America. 

In 1952 Guthrie wrote a song entitled I Ain’t Got No Home/Old Man Trump (yes, you read that right—that’s Fred Trump, his nasty Coney Island landlord). The issue was the treatment of tenants by landlords in New York. Sounds like a familiar theme…

New York City was always the source of the rebellious spirit—the hobo image he so carefully lived out and crafted into his songs.

Woody Guthrie lived all over the city, starting in Times Square where he arrived February 23, 1940 and wrote This Land is Your Land later that week. However, he spent most of his time in the West Village, living on Sixth Avenue (where he shared a loft with Pete Seeger), on Charles Street, and at 130 West 10th Street, also known as the Almanac House #2, named after the Almanac Singers, of which Woody and Pete Seeger were a part.

The West Village was the perfect refuge for the ultimate refugee bohemian.

As Woody’s friend David Amram said, “So life in the Village taught me that the superiority complexes, and the inferiority complexes, are two sides to the same coin, and if you allow yourself to value that rotten currency which is thrust upon us all the time, you realize that this is counterfeit currency. You don’t try to cash in on it. The Village helped us to search for lasting values and provide a fresh way of seeing and looking at things.”

It was the everyman theme of his songs and life that attracted Dylan, Seeger, Baez and the rest. But it was the Village that comforted their souls, that shaped their ambition and gave direction to a better quality life. 

Perhaps ironically we’ve come full circle with Woody Guthrie’s legend…with the ex-President and his family MAGA Non Grata in New York, I Ain’t Got No Home is now the Trump family ballad, all of them having been treated to the door. 

It’s warmer in Florida, but as my father used to say “the Florida state tree is the extended palm” …

I’ll take the Village anytime.

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