Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Wednesday Weekly: Especially now, "These Machines Kill Fascists."

“‘God Bless America’ rings a false note now, as it did when the song was first written (by Irving Berlin, 1939). Woody Guthrie, wrote the song ‘This Land is Your Land’ in 1940 after hearing Kate Smith sing ‘God Bless America’ one too many times. A man of the people, who spoke directly to them, Guthrie acknowledged the reality of their lives, and offered them hope by reminding them of their strength together. This sounds a lot better – and more American in spirit.” --Democratic Wings web site


I’m often asked to explain the meaning of NABC’s t-shirts, which for several years have borne the slogan, “These Machines Kill Fascists,” alongside a graphic of brewing vessels.

The simplest answer is that the phrase, and our t-shirts, pay tribute to Woody Guthrie. The deeper meaning provides an excellent excuse for me to write about it.

The iconic American folksinger Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), was born in Oklahoma and came of age during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, economic and environmental catastrophes that preceded the destruction of the Second World War.

Musically inclined from childhood, Guthrie drifted westward, eventually landing in California along with numerous other Okies. By doing so, Guthrie played a living, breathing bit part in real life, one that paralleled Steinbeck’s fictional “Grapes of Wrath.” As a direct result of what the singer saw and experienced during these troubled times in America, his political views evolved in progressive, leftist directions.

Many of Guthrie’s songs – he wrote more than 3,000 in all – chronicled the hardships of ordinary people, expressing empathy for their hardships, and support for liberal causes that he viewed as correctives. Among these were worker rights, unionization, and racial and gender equality.

Guthrie’s music spoke to the experience of actually living day to day in this country, with words chosen from a grassroots, realistic perspective. He eschewed the feel-good, flag-waving propaganda that so often is deployed by the powers that be to mask injustice. His annoyance with “God Bless America” was one manifestation of this feeling.

Importantly, for all his leftist tendencies, and contrasting with the way that right-wingers typically malign them, Guthrie remained a patriot and a firm believer in the potential of America, albeit a more idealistic and hopeful vision of the American experiment, one not defined entirely by wealth and privilege.

Consider, then, that during World War II, the United States (a democracy -- of sorts), aligned with the British hereditary monarchy and the USSR’s Communist dictatorship against the military aggression of Germany, Italy and Japan. Such was the threat posed by fascism. Guthrie viewed his music as an integral part of the war effort against fascism, and wrote, “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his acoustic guitar.

He meant that anti-fascist songs and ideas are as much a weapon against fascism as guns and bullets. Guthrie eventually joined the Merchant Marine, but whenever he sang, in or out of the service, he believed that he was using a machine that helped kill fascists.

The same phrase was written on machinery in factories throughout the United States, as those millions of people not in active military service, but comprising our industrial workforce, made a similar point: The person operating the machine that makes the supplies used to defeat fascism are helping to kill fascists, too.

NABC’s slogan reiterates this point.

“These Machines Kill Fascists” honors Guthrie. Also, brew kettles, mash tuns, fermenters and the equipment associated with them being the “machines” that we use to make craft beer, they’re our weapon against fascism in the beer world. We are making our own firm, principled statement about the beer market, within which there are quasi-political and social groupings, primarily the aggressive multi-national industrial players like Anheuser-Busch, and smaller entities like us.

In essence, we see NABC is part of the solution to the aggression posed by multi-national, corporate brewing fascism.

Thus, the NABC t-shirt, the slogan and the illustration.

If you wish for it to mean even more than that, interpretation is your privilege, just as it is when listening to song lyrics. Speaking personally, my leftist proclivities are fairly well documented. At the same time, while historical accuracy in the context of Guthrie’s legacy demands that we use the phrase as originally proposed, I’d prefer killing “fascism” rather than “fascists.”

Other than that, I believe that daily craft beer production kills fascists. Drinking some of it doesn’t hurt, either.

1 comment:

David Lasoski said...

Amen! To the death of beer fascism. One craft brew at a time!