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Sweet AirModernism, Regionalism, and American Popular Song$
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Edward P. Comentale

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037399

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037399.001.0001

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A Rambling Funny Streak

A Rambling Funny Streak

Woody Guthrie, Revolutionary Folk Song, and the Migrant Art of the Refrain

(p.117) Chapter Three A Rambling Funny Streak
Sweet Air

Edward P. Comentale

University of Illinois Press

This chapter uses the songs of Woody Guthrie to track a wider shift from regional song to national culture and, ultimately, pop idealism. It begins with Guthrie's own accounts of Oklahoma modernism—the whirlwind cycles of boom and bust that marked life in the Southwest during his early years. Guthrie's early experiences provided him with a typically modernist sense of cultural drift and discontinuity and attuned him to the growing rift between material reality and its public expression. These sensibilities informed Guthrie's most radical work with the Popular Front; his songwriting of this period, rather than a straightforward expression of folk ideology or class warfare, explores a new economy of sound for an increasingly migrant public. However, Guthrie later turned away from the fatalism of the socialist line to explore a certain “comic” mode, one that, in its own sonic rambling, upends the discursive categories of modern public life.

Keywords:   Woody Guthrie, folk, regional songs, national culture, pop idealism, Oklahoma modernism, modern public life, populism, deterritorialization

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