Guthrie, Woody - Heaven
Type of Spiritual Experience
Guthrie was born in Okemah, a small town in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. Guthrie's mother Nora was afflicted with Huntington's disease and was eventually committed to the Oklahoma Hospital for the Insane, where she died in 1930 from the disease.
Guthrie's early family life was affected by several fires, including one that caused the loss of his family's home in Okemah. His sister Clara later died in a coal-oil (used for heating) fire when Guthrie was seven, and Guthrie's father Charles was severely burned in a subsequent coal-oil fire. The circumstances of these fires, especially that in which Charles was injured, remain unclear. It is unknown whether they were accidents, or the result of actions by Nora.
Woody’s father, Charles Guthrie was a businessman, and from the records not a pleasant man. He was actively involved in Oklahoma politics and was involved in the 1911 lynching of Laura and Lawrence Nelson. He also appears to have been a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
When Nora Guthrie was institutionalized, Woody Guthrie was 14. His father Charley was living and working in Pampa, Texas, to repay his debts from unsuccessful real estate deals. Woody and his siblings were left on their own in Oklahoma. They relied on their eldest brother Roy for support. The 14-year-old Woody Guthrie worked odd jobs around Okemah, begging meals and sometimes sleeping at the homes of family friends.
Guthrie taught himself to play a number of instruments including the harmonica. He seemed to have a natural affinity for music and easily learned to "play by ear". He began to use his musical skills around town, playing a song for a sandwich or coins. Guthrie easily learned old ballads and traditional English & Scots songs from the parents of friends.
Guthrie was not academically inclined and dropped out of high school in his fourth year, but his teachers described him as bright and he was an avid reader on a wide range of topics.
In 1929, Guthrie's father sent for his son to come to Texas, but little changed for the aspiring musician. Guthrie, then 18, spent his time learning songs, busking on the streets and reading in the library at Pampa's city hall. He was growing as a musician, gaining practice by regularly playing at dances with his father's half-brother Jeff Guthrie, a fiddle player.
Some of the reading that Guthrie did was about his mother’s illness. He wanted to know why it happened and of course the question is always in anyone’s mind, ‘will this happen to me’. Guthrie appears to have been nothing like his father and as such his mother’s illness would have had especial relevance. At the library, he wrote a manuscript summarizing everything he had read on the basics of psychology. A librarian in Pampa shelved this manuscript under Guthrie's name, but it was later lost in a library reorganization.
A description of the experience
Words by Woody Guthrie, 1947, Music by Paul Morrissett (The Klezmatics), 2003
It’s after my work tired and weary, I lay down to rest my eyes,
I see this world change in a whirlwind and heaven flies down from the skies;
I see rising up from my wreckage cities and mansions so bright
I see my friends eyes and their faces lit up with a bright shining light.
I walk through the sunshiny factory where dresses and shirts are both clean;
A brother and sister are singing at work as they watch all the wheels;
No smudge clouds of smoke hide my valley, my sky it is clear for miles;
The mountains are all dancing happy, the trees are waving me smiles.
There are no sickly faces about me, the children are healthy and gay;
Not one homeless soul is around me, nor lost, nor cripple nor lame;
The street laid in finest of plastics, the atom is laboring as well;
No airships are crashing here by me, no dead ones in burning hotels.
No fast cars collide nor turn over, no death curve along my new road;
No cheaters, no gamblers, no robbers, no graveyard, no prisons, no jails;
No gasbombs, no brass knucks, no billies, no battles ‘tween worker and boss;
No patrolmen, no officer, policeman, to ride into crowds on his horse.
The last labor battles are ended, they’re shown on the screen and the page;
The workhand is happy at building his world like the play on his stage;
Profiteers are gone and forgotten, except in my history and book;
My friends all have jobs here in heaven and sing as I stand here and look.
I am sawing the finest made fiddle, I am touching the richest skin drum;
I am blowing the sweetest of woodwinds and blowing the deepest of horns;
I dance to my music I’m making, and the world joins in with my dance;
Science and hope cures the fevers, not one grain is blowing by chance.
Every hand works in hand with the other and not for power nor greed;
Every hand works to its fullest ability and is paid in its deepest of need;
No cancer, no tubercolosis, no paralysis nor asylums are here
No bowery nor skid row of homeless, no eye that is blinded by tears.
If you can only see with me this vision of heaven I dreamed,
Then you can take new faith in working with comrades and friends
And when I woke up from my sleeping and looked down my raggedy street,
I go back to work with my vision and I drink down the bitter and sweet.
I know as you hear such a dream, friend, you will not pass it along;
I do not expect you to sing it as I do, nor to sing such a curious song;
I wrote down this song for my own self, and sing it now to my own soul.
But if you’ll sing songs of your dreamings, then you will reap treasures untold.