I’m reading Woody Guthrie’s novel, House of Earth and I’m actually on edge because I love it so much. Guthrie was fetishistic about adobe. He wanted an adobe house built with his own hands. Having lived through dust storms he felt adobe was the answer for rural folk. It’a about this couple dreaming of their “house of earth” and is a call to arms against big agribusiness and for class warfare at the time.
It’s one of my new favorites-not surprising since most of my favorite books feature impoverished people in the 30’s and are written in vernacular. It also has one of the longest and earthiest sex scenes ever. I’m not kidding. It was definitely ahead of its time. Guthrie waited to publish it, hoping it would be picked up for a movie, but it never was. It was only discovered recently. Where Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath revolved around a family fleeing the dust and seeking a land of milk and honey, Guthrie’s book is for and about the people who stayed behind. It was his land and his people. He lived it.
I gleaned some interesting facts about him from the introduction (by: Douglas Brinkley and Johnny Depp no less!) In addition to performing around town for money, he painted signs, voraciously read and drew pictures.“He joined the Baptist Church, studied faith healing and fortune telling, read Rosicrucian tracts, and dabbled in Eastern Philosophy. He opened a business as a psychic in hopes of helping people with their personal problems. He wanted to be a fufliller of dreams.”
It was while busking around New Mexico that Guthrie’s “gospel of adobe” took root. He saw that adobe houses could last ages, as opposed to the rotted out wood shacks the people back home were living in. For five cents he bought USDA Bulletin No. 1720 The Uses of Adobe or Sun-Dried Brick for Farm Building which taught rural folk how to build an adobe house from the cellar up and promoted it for decades.
“If I was aiming to preach you a sermon on the subject, I would get a big lungful of air and say man himself is an adobe house, some sort of old streamlined temple.” -Woody Guthrie
It’s not surprising Guthrie studied philosophy. Reading it, I found passages reminiscent of Hesse’s Siddhartha and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer: “All of the things around him-house, barn, the iron water tank, the windmill, the little hen house, the old Ryckzyck shack, the whole farm, the whole ranch- they were a part of him, the same as an egg from the farm went into his mouth and down his throat was a part of him.“
“Ella May would laugh. She always laughed in way that was easy for her. She laughed best, most times, when the crops, the winds, the debts, the worries, splashed their highest.. Other ones said, ‘Things must be pretty tough over at her house, she’s laughing again.'”
I physically can’t stop playing and singing this Guthrie song Lucinda Williams performed and wrote the music to. “I’ll kiss you in such odd and natural ways, your wife will find out that kissing pays.. I’ll love you once to teach you all your life, the things to do when you are with your wife.” It’s worth a listen. Hauntingly beautiful.