Bruce Springsteen performed four songs and revealed some information about his next album in a 65-minute taped stream, May 13, during which he accepted this year’s Woody Guthrie Prize from Guthrie’s daughter, Nora.
“California was an enormous influence on some of my most topical writing, through my ’90s, through 2000s, and even now, on a record coming out soon that’s set largely in the West,” he told Guthrie and interviewer Bob Santelli in the stream. “I got very involved in telling those Western stories through my work.”
(In case anyone is wondering if he is referring to Western Stars … no, he isn’t. The interview was taped less than a month ago, on April 21.)
The Woody Guthrie Prize is given out by the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, and the stream — taped at the barn on Springsteen’s Colts Neck property — was made available to Center members.
Later in the stream, he performed solo acoustic versions of two Guthrie songs, “Tom Joad” (see video below) and “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” as well as two of his own songs: “Across the Border” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” The two Guthrie songs seemed particularly topical, since the former touches on police brutality and the latter, immigration.
“Our immigration laws are a mess, to this day,” he said before “Deportee.”
Earlier in the program, immediately after accepting the award, Springsteen talked about feeling hopeless at the age of 28, and finding something in Guthrie’s music that he couldn’t find in then-current pop or country: Hope.
“I always said that Bob Dylan was the father of my country, but your father was the grandfather of my country,” he told Nora Guthrie. “He was the first music where I found a reflection of America that I believed to be true, where I believed that the veils had been pulled off, and that what I was seeing was the real country that I live in, and what was at stake for the people and the citizenry who are my neighbors and friends. And that drove me deeply, deeply, into a direction that, without his influence coming at that exact moment … I was 30 years old and we began to perform (Guthrie’s) ‘This Land Is Your Land’ in concert.
“I don’t know if I would ever have gotten there, if I would have ever found that kind of hope, that kind of dedication, to putting your work into some form of action. And just a deeper telling of the stories of folks whose stories, I always felt, often go unheard.”
The Woody Guthrie Prize is given, every year, to “an artist who best exemplifies Woody Guthrie’s spirit and work by speaking for the less fortunate through music, film, literature, dance, or other art forms and serving as a positive force for social change in America,” according to the Woody Guthrie Center’s website.
Past recipients of the award include Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Chuck D, Kris Kristofferson, Mavis Staples, John Mellencamp and Norman Lear.
(NOTE: Click here to listen to 12 Springsteen covers of Woody Guthrie songs.)
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