I saw a documentary last year entitled the ‘The Dust Bowl’ on PBS, which chronicled the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, where the frenzied wheat boom of the “Great Plow-Up,” followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930’s nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation. It contained vivid interviews with twenty-six survivors of those hard times, combined with dramatic photographs and seldom seen movie footage, bringing to life stories of incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance. Huh. ‘Incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance’, eh? Sounds like my long runs. Anyway, one other thing that came from this experience was my renewed interest in Woody Guthrie, specifically his ‘Dust Bowl Ballads’ album.
‘Dust Bowl Ballads’ was recorded for Victor Records during Guthrie’s time in New York City in 1940 (and now preserved by the ‘Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage’). It was Guthrie’s first commercial recording and the most successful album he made. It is largely considered by some to be the first or one of the very first concept albums; originally released as two three-disc collections of 78 rpm records. The songs on ‘Dust Bowl Ballads’ are semi-autobiographical, chronicling Guthrie’s experience as a so-called “Okie” during the Dust Bowl era, where Guthrie witnessed the economic hardship that many migrant workers faced in California. Like many of Guthrie’s later recordings, these songs contain an element of social activism, and would be an important influence on later musicians, including Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Ochs and Joe Strummer.
For my purposes, it was an enjoyable time capsule to reflect on for this morning’s 5.75k. Thankfully, the only dust being kicked up was the crap behind me while doing my A, B, and C drills up and down Brunswick Ave.. Of course, it’s as dark as the depths of Mordor at 6:30am nowadays so I almost wouldn’t have been able to see that dust if it weren’t for the street lights so, it was almost like it might have been trying to outrun the dust clouds in Buttfuck, Oklahoma back in the 1930’s. Well, kinda…sorta…okay, not really. But you catch my drift. Get it? “Drift”. Never mind.