Woody, Cisco, & Me: Seamen Three in the Merchant Marine

Jim Longhi, Author
Jim Longhi, Author University of Illinois Press $24.95 (248p) ISBN 978-0-252-02276-0
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 05/01/2011
Paperback - 277 pages - 978-0-252-06700-6
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-7434-8004-8
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War (being politics by other means) makes for strange bedfellows. The trio described in attorney/playwright Longhi's (The Lincoln Mask) rollicking, often raunchy, always graphically real memoir of the merchant marine, is strange, affecting, funny and brave. From 1943 to D-Day, Longhi signed aboard various ships with his buddies, Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston. Guthrie with four children, and Cisco, legally blind, did not have to head for the front lines of the war. For Longhi, a law student, it was a lesser evil than the army. On ships carrying troops or high explosive materials, Guthrie and Houston teach Longhi how to harmonize, to play the guitar and to be a messman serving the crew. Guthrie, at 31 a renowned songwriter, memoirist and poet of the downtrodden, was already showing signs of Huntington's chorea, the inherited disease that would kill him in 1967. He boards ship with fiddles, harmonicas, guitars, mandolins, tambourines, a typewriter, notepads for the uncountable songs he will write and a novel in progress. They are an unbeatable trio, supportive of each other and the troops they ferried, performing at all hours under often terrifying conditions. What is significant in Longhi's alternately hilarious and somber recollection is the fervent patriotism of WWII, a vivid emotional response that is sometimes hard to comprehend today. And always in the background is Guthrie's strumming and singing his earth-poet lyrics. ""Our songs,"" he once said, ""are singing history."" Longhi's humor never obscures the painful reality of war, and the little-known part one icon of American music played in it. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Apr.)
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