RAMBLIN' MAN: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie

Ed Cray, Author . Norton $28.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-393-04759-2

The biographer of Gen. George C. Marshall (General of the Army ) turns his prodigious skills to view another complex American hero with an equally complex story—folk singer and political activist Woody Guthrie. Cray's access to thousands of pages from the Woody Guthrie Archives (including previously unpublished letters, diaries and journals) allows him to present a comprehensive picture, although sometimes the detail keeps Cray from moving the story along. However, this is the definitive biography of a songwriter whose legendary image for the past half-century has been "the banty, brilliant songwriter who had stood up for the underdog and downtrodden." Cray provides a superb look at Guthrie's background as a real estate agent's son. He carefully details how Guthrie moved from a fairly conventional career in country music to a recreation of his image through remarkable songs, like his "Dust Bowl Ballads,'' and gained a whole new Depression-era audience: "The Okies and Arkies, the Texicans and Jayhawkers, had become Woody's people." Cray also expertly observes how the "writerly discipline" of these works was missing in his post-WWII songs. While Guthrie's folk hero status is a given today, Cray shows just how much effort it actually took for a new generation of folk singers such as Bob Dylan to raise awareness of Guthrie's importance as the man himself fell victim to Huntington's disease. Finally, Cray fully explores one of the real heroes in this story, Guthrie's second wife, Marjorie, who stuck with the singer during and after their stormy marriage. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/22/2003
Release date: 02/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 488 pages - 978-0-393-32736-6
Open Ebook - 978-0-393-34308-3
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