A generational understanding is just that but where does that leave us?

I decided to take an evening writing class last fall to pursue a goal I have long held. The class ran from September to early October when masks were merely recommended and not required. An editor a Covid refuge was charged with the task of teaching a group of eleven writers the elements of storytelling. The sure-fire formula that would guide us all to capturing the brass ring. Getting published. The classroom and the group were filled with knowledge and passion for the world of authors and their works. We seamlessly and happily went from one interesting week to the next.

Our final class in this five-week session was spent analyzing a Bruce Springsteen song titled “Born in the USA.” Copies of Springsteen’s lyrics were passed around to the group for our reference. My understanding of Springsteen’s words differed vastly from the others. His words had fallen as flat as the white printer paper they were illustrated on. The import of their meaning was perfunctorily met. The power of this song must be listened to and not merely read. I suggested. The teacher was happy to oblige and agreed to play the song for the class.  Glossing over the strength of Springsteen’s lyrics and the Vietnam years was not an option. How could we be so far apart in our interpretations? I was finding meaning in each beat of the music. Deeper meaning from my years of growing up during Vietnam…

We continued our “Springsteen” conversation beyond the lyrics of this song.  Quietly while raising my hand, I introduced the topic of Woody Guthrie being consequently influential for Springsteen. My instructor looked at me with a blank and puzzled expression and said “who?” Shock and horror filled my very essence. An unmasked classmate that I assumed was closer to my age than not said “oh yeah, the guy that sings that Thanksgiving Day song.” My skin crawled and my temper flared as I corrected her that the artist, she was referring to was Arlo Guthrie. Woody Guthrie’s son. I went on to explain that the song “Alice’s Restaurant” was technically not a “Thanksgiving Day song” but instead a protest song against the draft during the Vietnam War. Yes, it is played at noon on Thanksgiving Day. My heart ached…

“Guthrie’s was the first music where I found a reflection of America that I believed to be true,” Springsteen continued. “Where I believed that the veils had been pulled off and what I was seeing was the real country that I live in and what was at stake for the people and citizenry who are my neighbors and friends.” billboard.com

Do influences and understanding simultaneously travel the same fate as we generationally distance ourselves from an artist? Can’t help but wonder what lyrics Guthrie would have written as he travelled across America today?

“How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?” John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath


Author: Elizabeth Ricketson

A graduate of Providence College with a BA in English, Elizabeth Ricketson has always had a love of literature and the fine arts. Elizabeth’s essays focus on life experiences and life in Vermont.

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