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Woody Guthrie Street. “Should there be?” two Pampans were recently asked. One replied with an emphatic “Oh yes!” Another said just as emphatically, “Why, he was just a tramp!” Official Pampa long resisted efforts to welcome the old prodigal to the town of his youth. But this year a small band of conspirators began to plan a welcome-home party for Woody Guthrie. They argued in a language that Pampans can understand, that deep love for the powerless is the most prized of Biblical virtues and that Woody Guthrie may be alone in history in writing a thousand songs for them. July 14, which would have been his 80th birthday, has passed, but the town leaders \(perscheduled an all-day bash on October 3, the anniversary of Guthrie’s death. Woody’s sister, Mary Jo, will speak and local officials have voted to designate Highway 60, which runs through six Panhandle counties and skirts the city limits of Pampa, as “The Woody Guthrie Memorial Highway.” And in Pampa’s Central Park, a giant cast iron sculpture of the musical staff and notes of the first two verses of “This Land …” will never let Panhandle schoolchildren forget that Woody Guthrie was once a Pampa boy. as the rest of us chase it. He was determined not to be rich. He was determined not to have the money or the values of middle class respectability. That repudiation of middle class values is, I suggest, why Pampans are ambivalent about their most famous citizen. The Pampa, Texas, in which I grew up in the 1930s and 1940s was as middle class as a Frank Capra movie. Its dominant values \(never, of honesty in business, donation of time and money to worthy causes, fidelity to one’s spouse and care of one’s family, love of God and country, and beating the Amarillo Golden Sandies in football. These values were proclaimed at church services, women’s circles, service clubs, scout meetings and school assemblies. Education was important, and some excellent public school teachers prepared students not only to attend regional colleges but also the prestigious colleges on the coasts. At one time in the early 1950s, there were four Pampa High graduates at Yale. Woody Guthrie smelled bad. He flunked out of high school. He rode the rails with hoboes. He wrote a ballad that turned the gangster, Pretty Boy Floyd, into Robin Hood. He cheated on his wives. He neglected his children. He talked like a Red. He mocked the American Dream of rags to riches. He was an affront to a community reluctant to allow the artist to live by a separate standard. By the late 1950s, Woody Guthrie had become for some Americans a tragic hero, a legend who had earned a place in history by his talents and his suffering. His period of great productivity he wrote perhaps a thousand songs was over. It had lasted no more than 16 years, from about 1937, when he left Pampa, to about 1953, when’Huntington’s chorea put him permanently in the hospital. He spent nearly all of his last 14 years there, from 1953 until his death in 1967. It was the protest singers of the 1960s who canonized Guthrie, seeing him as their forerunner and mentor. Bob Dylan is but the best known of the musicians who went as pilgrims to Guthrie’s bedside. The old populist became their model and inspiration. They were moved by his courage as a wretched disease robbed him of his talents before it robbed him of his life. They loved the old lyrics which roasted the Establishment. They counted his bohemian lifestyle as virtue and not vice. And most of all, they envied him for being something they were not, an authentic man of the people. Pete Seeger had gone to Harvard. Joan Baez’s father was a college professor of physics. Bob Dylan suffered neither hunger nor the Dust Bowl in Hibbing, Minnesota, although he would have given his soul to have had a history to match that of his hero, Woody Guthrie. The singers of the ’60s were like the generation of politicians who, after Lincoln, longed to convert their birthplaces into log cabins. Okemah, Oklahoma, was Woody’s log cabin. Pampa, Texas was his rail-splitting youth. How fortunate were Abe and Woody to be so unfortunate. Pampa has a street named for Randy Matson, a local son who won a gold medal in the shot put in the 1968 Olympics. There is no Subscriptions to and back issues The Texas Observer are available. Fill in the in gaps your collection or even out that short of leg for $3 for back onyour table only each issue you need. We still have plenty of copies of the following issues: Double issue on David Duke \(Jan. 17 & 31, JFK issue \(Dec. 27, To inquire, call 512/477-0746 or write: Texas Observer Back Issues 307 W. 7th St. Austin, Texas 78701 rob , THE TEXAS 1111PI server TO SUBSCRIBE: Name Address City State Zip $27 enclosed for a one-year subscription. Bill me for $27. $3 for each back issue. Please indicate dates 1 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17