In March 2012, Bruce Springsteen gave the keynote speech at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The festival included a “Woody Guthrie at 100” celebration, since 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of Guthrie’s birth. So Springsteen, naturally, talked about Guthrie in the course of his speech.
He talked about reading Joe Klein’s biography, “Woody Guthrie: A Life,” in his late 20s, then continued, “As I read that book, a world of possibilities that predated (Bob) Dylan’s, that had inspired him, and lead to some of his greatest work, opened up for me.
“Woody’s gaze was — it was set on today’s hard times. But also, somewhere over the horizon, there was something. Woody’s world was a world where fatalism was tempered by a practical idealism. It was a world where speaking truth to power wasn’t futile, whatever its outcome.
“Why do we continue to talk about Woody so many years on? Never had a hit, never went platinum, never played in an arena, never got his picture on the cover of Rolling Stone. But he’s a ghost in the machine — big, big ghost in the machine. And I believe it’s because Woody’s songs, his body of work, tried to answer Hank Williams’ question: why your bucket has a hole in it. And that’s a question that’s eaten at me for a long time.
“So, in my early 30s, his voice spoke to me very, very deeply.”
Springsteen has covered Guthrie’s songs many times, over the years. Here are some videos of the performances:
Springsteen began covering “This Land Is Your Land” in concert in 1980. Here he is doing it in 1985, on his Born in the USA Tour, introducing it as “about the greatest song ever written about America.”
“I Ain’t Got No Home,” from the multi-artist 1988 album, Folkways: A Vision Shared — A Tribute to Woody Guthrie & Leadbelly.
Springsteen’s video for “Vigilante Man,” also from Folkways: A Vision Shared — A Tribute to Woody Guthrie & Leadbelly.
Springsteen performs “Blowin’ Down the Road” with Joe Ely at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, in 1993. The song is known by other titles as well, including “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and “Ain’t Gonna Be Treated This Way.”
Springsteen performs “Oklahoma Hills” with Arlo Guthrie and Joe Ely at a Woody Guthrie tribute concert at Severance Hall in Cleveland in 1996.
Springsteen performs “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” at the Severance Hall concert.
Springsteen performs “Riding in My Car” at the Severance Hall concert.
One of the group numbers at the end of the Severance Hall concert was “Hard Travelin’.” Springsteen sings the second verse.
Springsteen performed Guthrie’s “Tom Joad” occasionally on his Ghost of Tom Joad Tour in 1996 and 1997. Here he is doing it in San Diego.
“Hobo’s Lullaby” was written by Goebel Reeves but is associated with Woody Guthrie and has been recorded by many others, including Arlo Guthrie. Springsteen’s version was included on the 2007 homelessness benefit album, Give Us Your Poor.
Springsteen performs “This Land Is Your Land” with Pete Seeger at Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural celebration.
Here is “This Land Is Your Land” in 2012,” with the E Street Band plus friends such as Joe Ely, Alejandro Escovedo, and members of Arcade Fire.
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