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About the time our history/music assignment was due, I found a terrific PBS documentary about Woody Guthrie. I decided to combine that piece - along with the Tom Joad song (i.e., Guthrie's plot song for Grapes of Wrath) to re-create and enhance the "ballad" study. Previously, I had used ballads to study narrative poetry - sampling old Scottish ballad poetry, old American songs like "Oh, My Darlin' Clementine," "The Ballad of New Orleans," "The Ballad of the Green Berets," and ballads which the students would bring in. I have not previously used the "Tom Joad" song, but I have had students create and perform their own "plot" songs for some of the literature units we study.

Using the "Tom Joad" song (lyrics below) and the life of Woody Guthrie as a starting point, I would like to develop some cross-curriculum work with the American History instructor. In collaborative groups, it would be valuable to ask the students to choose decades in American History, research the songs which promoted social/political change, and then create their own lyrics as they interpret an historic/political/social movement or event. Either as background to this unit (or as an extension of it) students can explore the use of ballads in popular movies and documentaries. [In collaborative groups, I think an excellent expanded project would be the study of folk song writers/performers. The Weisman's exhibit on Bob Dylan - winter 2007 - would be an excellent example.]

One other idea...instead of selecting a decade to study and looking at national trends and news events, I think that creating ballads about the local community would be another way to allow the students to work with the idea of verbal image and melody to bring across the emotion of events in their own community. The Dakota Conflict of 1862 and the German POW camps at Flandreau State Park during WWII would be two topics with which we could start. A field trip to the Brown County Historical Society in our community could acquaint students with the ample resources available to them for reading and viewing.

Here are the lyrics to the Tom Joad song by Woody Guthrie.

Woody Guthrie

Tom Joad got out of the old McAlester Pen
There he got his parole
After four long years on a man killing charge
Tom Joad come a walking down the road, poor boy
Tom Joad come a walking down the road

Tom Joad he met a truck driving man
There he caught him a ride He said: "I just got loose from
McAlester's Pen On a charge called Homicide, A charge called

That truck rolled away in a cloud of dust,
Tommy turned his face toward home,
He met Preacher Casey and they had a little drink,
But they found that his family they was gone,
He found that his family they was gone.
He found his mother's old fashion shoe
Found his daddy's hat.
And he found little Muley and Muley said:
"They've been tractored out by the cats,
They've been tractored out by the cats."

Tom Joad walked down to the neighbors farm
Found his family.
They took Preacher Casey and loaded in a car
And his mother said "We got to git away."
His mother said 'We got to get away."

Now the twelve of the Joads made a mighty heavy load
But Grandpa Joad did cry.
He picked up a handful of land in his hand
Said: "I'm stayin' with the farm till I die.
Yes, I'm stayin' with my farm till I die."

They fed him short ribs and coffee and soothing syrup
And Grandpa Joad did die.
They buried Grandpa Joad by the side of the road,
Buried Grandma on the California side,
They buried Grandma on the California side.

They stood on a Mountain and they looked to the West And it
looked like the promised land. That bright green valley with a
river running through, There was work for every single hand, they
thought, There was work for every single hand.
The Joads rolled away to Jungle Camp, There they cooked a stew.
And the hungry little kids of the Jungle Camp Said: "We'd like to
have some too." Said: "We'd like to have some too."

Now a Deputy Sheriff fired loose at a man
Shot a woman in the back.
Before he could take his aim again
Preacher Casey dropped him in his track.
Preacher Casey dropped him in his track.

They handcuffed Casey and they took him to Jail
And then he got away.
And he met Tom Joad on the old river bridge,
And these few words he did say, poor boy,
These few words he did say.

"I preached for the Lord a mighty long time
Preached about the rich and the poor.
Us workin' folks got to all get together,
Cause we ain't got a chance anymore.
We ain't got a chance anymore."

The Deputies come and Tom and Casey run
To the bridge where the water run down.
But the vigilante they hit Casey with a club,
They laid Preacher Casey on the ground.
They laid Preacher Casey on the ground.

Tom Joad he grabbed that Deputy's club
Hit him over the head.
Tom Joad took flight in the dark rainy night
A Deputy and a Preacher lying dead, two men,
A Deputy and a Preacher lying dead.

Tom run back where his mother was asleep
He woke her up out of bed.
Then he kissed goodbye to the mother that he loved
Said what Preacher Casey said, Tom Joad,
He said what Preacher Casey said.

"Ever'body might be just one big soul
Well it looks that a way to me.
Everywhere that you look in the day or night
That's where I'm gonna be, Ma,
That's where I'm gonna be.

Wherever little children are hungry and cry
Wherever people ain't free.
Wherever men are fightin' for their rights
That's where I'm gonna be, Ma.
That's where I'm a gonna be.
language: Which words draw on the emotions of those who listen to this ballad?
voice: Who is speaking, and how does that person come to life in the words of this song?
repetition: What is repeated in each stanza? Why is that effective?
imagery: Select two images which stand out in these lyrics. Explain why.

Application of some of the CENTER FOR MEDIA LITERACY deconstruction questions:

Who created this story? Who created this song? What is the message of each?
How might different people understand the message of this song?
What values are represented in the lyrics of this song?
What can you tell about the narrator? What does he stand for?

I am looking forward to incorporating more music - analysis and composition!