Critics’ Notebook


High Plains Picker

Power to the people. That’s one way of interpreting the writing on Woody Guthrie’s guitar, which read, “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS.” The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum (2503 4th Ave., Canyon, 806-651-2244) seconds that motion with “It’s Been Good to Know Yuh: Woody Guthrie in Pampa, 1929-1936.” The exhibit, ongoing through July 31, chronicles the Okie folkie’s stint in nearby Pampa, Texas, during which he embraced music as a profession with his formation of the Corn Cob Trio.

In a room decorated to resemble Harris Drugs, where Guthrie worked as a soda jerk, napkins are available for jotting down lyrics and two acoustic guitars are on hand for plucking accompaniment. If inspiration is an issue, refer to the exhibit’s photographs and writings, or just stare deeply into the grooves of Guthrie’s personal copy of his Dust Bowl Ballads record-a sure way to channel the blood, sweat and tears that imbue Guthrie’s enduring anthems.

Woody Guthrie

If getting to the Amarillo-area museum is an issue, you can dial (806) 318-9056 for an audio tour (the audio is intended to accompany the exhibit as you stroll through it).

Guthrie has Mother Nature to thank for his pivotal time in Pampa. The Dust Bowl gave him the marginalized characters he would champion in his repertoire, and likewise set him off on the intrepid travels that would lay the tracks for the On the Road generation to follow. Guthrie’s influence continues far and wide, including even President Barack Obama, at whose inauguration Bruce Springsteen and Guthrie contemporary Pete Seeger led a sing-along of “This Land Is Your Land.”

All this history and more will be relived April 17-20 at the museum, when musicians including Jimmy LaFave will join Guthrie’s daughter, Nora Guthrie, for a symposium on this Depression-era God to Bob Dylan’s Jesus. See for more info.

Curiouser & Curiouser

One sign of a great writer is curiosity, and one of the most inquisitive writers out there is Malcolm Gladwell. The British-born, wild-haired Gladwell is reliably fascinated by why things-people, mostly-act and interact the way they do.

Once a business and science reporter for The Washington Post, Gladwell is now a franchise staff writer for The New Yorker and best-selling author. He explicated the causes of abrupt social change in his first book, The Tipping Point. He explored rapid cognition and intuition in Blink. In his latest, Outliers: The Story of Success, Gladwell delights in the mystery of what makes certain people rise to the top.

Malcolm Gladwell

If you’ve ever wondered why some geniuses make billions in software while others toil unrecognized in graduate labs, Outliers has a hypothesis for you. Gladwell considers intriguing people and examines their successes through the lenses of history, economics, psychology, linguistics, and any other discipline that wanders into his expansive field of view.

Are Asians inherently excellent at math? Why are so many of New York City’s top corporate lawyers the Jewish sons of Eastern European immigrants who grew up in Brooklyn or the Bronx with family roots in the garment industry? What do history’s richest people have in common? Can a few months of difference in birth date have anything to do with a Canadian hockey player’s success?

You don’t have to agree with Gladwell’s sometimes oversimplified revelations to find his work fascinating. In fact, separating the pseudoscientific from the merely anecdotal is a large part of any Gladwell article’s fun. If you’re in or around Odessa, join in when Gladwell speaks at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin’s John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute on Tuesday, April 14, in the university gym at 7 p.m. Admission is free.