Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913 — 22nd Annual Woody Guthrie Festival, 2019

Woodyfest 2019: Grown Up Anger with Author Daniel Wolff

Calumet, Guthrie, & Dylan

Calumet, Guthrie, & Dylan

As part of Woodyfest’s con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tional out­reach, [Sidenote: This is the thir­teenth post in our cov­er­age of the twenty-sec­ond annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. We’ll be alter­nat­ing our report­ing with essays and photo gal­leries from the from the six­teenth fes­ti­val in 2013 and the sev­en­teenth fes­ti­val in 2014, so check in often for a mix of old and new Woodyfest good­ness.] author Daniel Wolff gave a short talk about his book, Grown Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913, dur­ing the last year’s festival.

In alter­nat­ing chap­ters, the book weaves biogra­phies of the two men with the story of the Calumet Massacre. The lat­ter was the sub­ject of a lesser-known Guthrie song, “1913 Massacre,” and tells the story of a panic that broke out at a Christmas party given for strik­ing min­ers in Calumet, Michagan on Christmas Eve, 1913. Eyewitnesses agree that a stranger ran in and yelled Fire! (there was no fire), but it’s not known who the man was or what was his moti­va­tion. In the sub­se­quent panic, sev­enty-three peo­ple, includ­ing sixty-two chil­dren, were crushed to death in a pile-up near the door.

Guthrie’s song reflects the com­mon belief that the stranger was an agent or sym­pa­thizer of the mine own­ers, and that com­pany sym­pa­thiz­ers held the door, located at the bot­tom of a nar­row stair­case, tightly shut.

In truth, the man’s iden­tity is unknown and no proof has ever been found to sup­port the idea that the panic was engi­neered by com­pany sym­pa­thiz­ers, or indeed, if any such were even present. No one knows why he entered the space and shouted Fire! For this rea­son Wolff char­ac­ter­izes the inci­dent as a mystery.

Over the course of the book, Wolff traces the evo­lu­tion of folk music from a genre that records spe­cific inci­dents and par­tic­u­lar griev­ances to one that addresses global issues. When Guthrie wrote songs like “Deportee,” he may have been com­ment­ing on the larger issue of how we treat migrant work­ers, but he was refer­ring to spe­cific inci­dents, peo­ple, and places. By the time Dylan made the switch to elec­tric instru­ments, he was writ­ing gen­eral cri­tiques of a whole rot­ten sys­tem. Folk music had gone from lament­ing the mur­der of “The Knoxville Girl” to doc­u­ment­ing unbounded angst over the H-Bomb.

Festival reg­u­lar Chris Buhalis pro­vided musi­cal exam­ples for Wolff’s lec­ture. Grown Up Anger was pub­lished by Harper in 2017 and is avail­able from all of the usual sources.



About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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