Morning Joe | February 22, 2013
>>> well --
>> welcome back. with us now, the daughter of folk singer woody guthrie and head of woody guthrie publications and archives, nora guthrie . also, historian douglas brinkley .
>> hi, douglas .
>> who co-wrote the introduction to nora 's father's novel, "house of earth," written 66 years ago but just being published now. and douglas , we came in with, of course, that iconic song that some people believe that this novel is a companion piece to that.
>> yeah, in many ways, the story of "house of earth," woody wrote it after experiencing the dust bowl . and john steinbeck wrote about the okies trying to find a living after the crops were destroyed and livestock was dead after the dust bowl . woody stayed in texas panhandle and said what about the people that stayed? and that's what "house of earth" is about, people that want to stay on their land. and he recognized that big timber was in cahoots with the banks and that you could actually build an adobe house like in new mexico and live much cheaper and not have to be owned by the banks. so he started promoting adobe living to texans. and this book's about a couple that raises a family and just wants to own their own piece of land, the land should belong to you. here in new york, he wrote "this land is your land" that we just heard, right here in the city.
>> so nora , this book has been called the authoritative statement about the plight of the rural poor.
>> yeah. he understood it. talk about how this was unearthed and also about the cover art , which is absolutely fascinating.
>> it was written 66 years ago?
>> and why did no one know about it, or what happened? what's the story?
>> my excuse for myself is that he wrote so many things in his lifetime, over 3,000 songs that we've been working with for the last 20 years, really. so there's just an abundance of material. and it's just hard to get your arms around all of it all at once. so luckily, douglas actually is the one who tipped us off about this novel. my father wrote novels, poetry, prose. he did a lot of artwork in addition to all the lyrics. my head was kind of focused on lyrics for the last couple years. and douglas kind of called one day and said, i heard there's a novel out there. and actually, i had never heard of it. i was kind of surprised.
>> so talk about the novel, why it's so important, douglas .
>> well, you know, the dust bowl , we might be heading into a drought time now. you know, look at with climate change and the forests burning every summer, temperatures going up. what happened -- what fdr had to do to confront it with just the dying of the great plains and just how people suffered. i mean, it's unbelievable when you really read about it. and people were getting dust pneumonia . woody guthrie was in a shack in the panhandle putting a rag on his mouth to breathe. and he documented it in his songs. he's our nation's great balladeer. this is the dust bowl novel, experiencing what it was like in realtime. he wasn't someone who heard about it or read about it. he was the dust bowl . his ballads live on and continue to influence everybody.
>> how did you discover it's this novel that his own daughter didn't even know about it?
>> that's a good question. historians are detectives. and i had interviewed bob dylan in europe. and dylan loved -- almost worshipped woody guthrie . and doing some research --
>> he emulated him. at the beginning of his career.
>> he pretended.
>> the first album he wrote a song called "song for woody ," which is a classic piece. i ended up finding a letter from allen loemax that said i'm going to drop everything i'm doing because i've read a couple h couple chapters and it's going to change things. then a kind of hunt went around looking for it. ended up finding it. and i should add they're building a museum for woody guthrie this april, they're opening, in oklahoma.
>> woody guthrie museum.
>> where in oklahoma?
>> tulsa. fantastic.
>> when you first read this, what did you think? i'm just noticing there's a lot of sex in it. you warned me about that. it's like --
>> he went for it.
>> oh, my gosh!
>> actually, that's exactly what i did. i went, oh, my god! dad!
>> i mean, i can't -- i would read this except i can't. out loud.
>> you mean on the air, right.
>> oh, my goodness.
>> well, you know, woody was very free in his writing. he was probably the most unself-censored writer in his lyrics and in his novels. so here you go. this is what they did out there in the dust bowl .
>> there was nothing else to do.
>> nora , let me ask you. you know, unfortunately our culture today, people learn about things, history, historical sector from television. ken burns ' great, great documentary on the dust bowl is just a vivid reminder of what happened during that period of time. your dad wrote "this land is your land," about six blocks from here.
>> he also wrote this.
>> okay, mika, put it down.
>> if you read the book --
>> oh be still my heart.
>> one of the reasons, joe, the novel never got published in that climate of the '40s, you could not have published this.
>> the guy's writing this in the '40s.
>> sorry, go ahead.
>> ignore her.
>> let him go.
>> if you read the book, once you get past the first 30 pages, the book is about what happened when big farms, corporate farming, takes over people's lands. it's what happens when big banks, even then, you know, screw people out of their lands. what was -- when did you get a sense, or did you, your dad being, like, way ahead of his time in recognizing social/cultural political dilemmas that affect us today?
>> well, it's funny because i grew up with everything you just said. it's kind of part of -- it's in my genes, you know. so i was kind of educated by my father's friends who were always around. we had led belly and brown mcgee, jack elliott , tons and tons of musicians. and all of these songs, folk music tends to be about what's going on in your life. at the bottom of the lyric, "this land is your land," my dad wrote "all you can write is what you see." and that's kind of his m.o. so i kind of grew up with all of this education. but in song form. so i knew about the dust bowl before i was in high school . you know, where they didn't even teach it. so there was that kind of, you know, education. it wasn't really until i was grown up when i kind of went out into the world and realized that not a lot of people knew the stories that i had learned. but i learned it through music. not through --
>> it's interesting, though, is it not, that songs, woody 's songs, seger's songs, dylan's songs, springsteen's songs, are history?
>> absolutely. and i think my father was one half journalist. that was really his style of writing. and we got such an education just from the songs that were around us. like the dust bowl daal lballads. you mentioned ken burns ' documentary. when i saw that, i couldn't believe how accurate my father's songs were.
>> i went back and i went, that's not poetry. that really happened. when he sings " dust pneumonia blues" pneumonia blues, what douglas was talking about. and then ken really illuminates what he's talking about in " dust bowl blues" and i was stunned at how accurate my father's songs were.
>> he wrote for newspapers a lot, woody , and so he'd go see those camps in california.
>> did you know she passed out?
>> you got to fan her now and cool her down a little, joe.
>> it's unbelievable.
>> nora , nora .
>> talk about the cover. it's a fascinating story.
>> woody would paint, and when he went to new mexico, and when we hesitant to santa fe , he fell in love with the adobe structures. a gentleman in colorado owns this.
>> he actually wanted to be an artist when he was a young man. he did a lot of oil paintings and things like that and then it got too expensive. he couldn't afford the brush or canvas, and he realized that you could go into a saloon for five cents, someone would throw you a nickel and feed you, and if you sang a song, that was the way he could make a living. but this one, it was kind of how the stars all come together. this painting happened to be one of two oil paintings that still exist. he did one of lincoln that still exists. it's down in the smithsonian, and he did this one of adobe paintings. so when it whole project came to fruition, i said to the publisher, i said there's one existing oil painting my father did, happens to be of an adobe house.
>> the book is "house of earth," nora guthrie , and douglas brinkley . thank you.
>> thank you so much.
>> it was fun.
>> coming up next, we got bob costa. they join us. you're watching " morning joe ," brewed by starbucks. we're going to keep talking , mika, about how we avoid the sequestration. alec,