If you think George Bush didn’t cause any lasting damage, talk to Will Kaufman.
Kaufman, from Montclair, NJ, has been living abroad for 30 years, and is currently a Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Central Lancashire in England.
Towards the end of the Bush administration, Kaufman finally decided he had to show his European brethren another side of America besides the right wing rhetoric that had taken over the headlines, the airwaves and the international cafe chatter.
To do so, he drew on his own experience as a folk musician, and created “Woody Guthrie: Hard Times and Hard Travellin,” a performance piece based on the American political scene of the early 20th century and Guthrie’s radicalization during the same period.
At the Boght Arts Center in Cohoes on Wednesday night, Kaufman – proudly sporting an IWW patch on his jacket – spoke of Hoovervilles and relief lines; Calvin Coolidge’s contributions to the Great Depression; and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s response to American strife.
He also outlined Guthrie’s life in broad stokes, continually tying personal landmarks to political milestones.
In addition to songs by Guthrie, he offered tunes by Blind WIllie Johnson, Sis Cunningham and Guthrie’s Broadway pal, Yip Harburg.
All were self-accompanied on very accomplished guitar, banjo and fiddle.
Kaufman, as noted, is a professor, and “Hard Times and Hard Travellin” was certainly as much lecture as entertainment. It was enlightening for music fans, history buffs and lefties-in-training alike.
The performance also had an ulterior motive. In the spring, the University of Illinois Press will publish Kaufman’s “Woody Guthrie: American Radical” as part of its “Music In American Life” series.
Kaufman didn’t have copies of the text available at the arts center, but he plans another stateside trip when the book is published. It will prove required reading for anyone with an interest in what he calls the “airbrushed” history of the American left.
And you will be tested on it.
Review by Bokonon