published Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Cook: Till the World is Level

Woody Guthrie was late to the soup kitchen Monday morning for his Labor Day concert.

“Freight trains ain’t reliable,’’ he told the crowd of 100 hobos.

“I know that’s right,’’ one of them answered back.

Guthrie, born 100 years ago, played songs and told stories for more than an hour yesterday before a clapping Chattanooga Community Kitchen crowd. Wearing a worn hat, workman’s shirt, blue jeans, brown boots with a guitar slung over one shoulder and a canvas bag (Workers Unite! in red letters) over the other, Guthrie boot-clomped in about five minutes late ... all part of the act.

And after listening to the show, I realized Guthrie’s not late at all.

He’s actually right on time.

“These songs from the 1930s and 40s are still ringing,’’ said Randy Noojin, who’s been impersonating Guthrie in his “Hard Travelin’ with Woody’’ performance since its debut last summer in New York City.

Noojin was 3/4ths Guthrie with a shot of Tom Joad on the side. Set at a fictional labor hall before a crowd of striking mine workers, the performance was dangerous: few people speak like this in 2012.

“You’ve dug out a hundred mountains of wealth, but your wages won’t feed your family!” he said to the crowd.

“Strike! Strike!,” he said. “The only way to get a nickel out of a multi-millionaire on Wall Street is a union. We’re Goliath if we stick together and organize.”

We’ve whitewashed Guthrie over the years, settling for the sing-along, feel-good “This Land is Your Land’’ folk singer. But Guthrie was deeply critical of capitalism, greed and Wall Street. (Sounds a lot like Occupy, right?)

“He was a revolutionary,” said the actor-playwright Noojin, over cups of black Community Kitchen coffee after the show.

And it’s shocking — embarrassing, really — that Guthrie’s music is relevant after all these years. We’ve invented plasma television, gigabit Internet speeds and just landed a ship on Mars, but can’t solve homelessness?

“I loved it,” said Ricky Bayless, who’s been on the streets for 8 years. “I’ve been out there in tents. Slept on cardboard. I’ve seen a lot of families [out there] too. I’ve eaten out of dumpsters a few times. Even though the stuff he was singing about was in the 30s, it is still going on today. People out of work, struggling, just trying to get by.”

Noojin also showed Guthrie’s wit and humor.

“If it wasn’t for my bad breath, I wouldn’t have a cent,” he said.

Or: “I worked for a while at a bakery. Boss said he’d never seen such a loafer.”

And: “It got so dry and dusty, I seen a fireplug chasing a dog.”

Noojin, who performed last Friday for the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers Local 75 celebration, tells Guthrie’s story as the story of the 1930s and 1940s America: dust bowls and depression, train hopping and handbills, striking workers and rich bankers.

At one point, Guthrie stumbles into a “hobo jungle” and hears a woman singing about needing three square meals a day for her children:

“I decided my songs would echo that song of starvation until the world looks level,” Guthrie says to the audience. “Until the world is level. And there ain’t no rich man and there ain’t no poor man.”

Noojin, whose work can be seen at, performs two more shows in Chattanooga — this Thursday and Friday, 7:30 p.m. at the Lindsay Street Hall, benefitting the Community Kitchen. Noojin said the goal of each show is to instill in audiences one thing above all else.

“Hope,” he said.

Tuesday’s online-only column is based around sharing a meal or drinks with someone in Southeast Tennessee or North Georgia. Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
conservative said...

These two quotes stood out to me :

"But Guthrie was deeply critical of capitalism, greed and Wall Street. (Sounds a lot like Occupy, right?)"

“I decided my songs would echo that song of starvation until the world looks level,” Guthrie says to the audience. “Until the world is level. And there ain’t no rich man and there ain’t no poor man.”

So we gather the "homeless" together and tell them their condition is the fault of someone else? Will this kind of talk inspire them to give up drinking, drugs and irresponsible behavior? Or will this kind of talk inspire them to blame others and remain in their poor wretched condition?

September 4, 2012 at 8:58 a.m.
shen said...

conserv, the image of the drunken, drug addicted and irresponsible homeless individual or family is a terrible myth and misconception who the homeless really are. I've seen people, entire families even, from all walks of life homeless due to nothing other than having lost their jobs or lifesavings due to layoffs, physical injuries on the job or other illnesses that wiped out their entire life savings. There are once millionaires who have been reduced to sleeping in their cars. Former military veterans sleeping under a bridge. Americans with mental illness who would have once at least have had a bed to sleep inside a mental hospital. Who are now routinely being jailed or forced to sleep on the streets.

September 4, 2012 at 9:27 a.m.
conservative said...

shen, my eyes and my experience are not myths. Bad choices and irresponsible behavior are the norm.

The Liberals, led by the ACLU (Anti Christian Lawyers Union) won court victories allowing the mentally ill to roam the streets.

Liberalism is a very desructive and evil movement!

September 4, 2012 at 10:12 a.m.
conservative said...

Now the opposite of Liberalism is Christianity.

Christianity is the remedy for the homeless! Christianity is the remedy for starvation!

Psalm 37:25 I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.

Luke 12:24 Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?

September 4, 2012 at 10:53 a.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

conservative wrote: "Now the opposite of Liberalism is Christianity.

Christianity is the remedy for the homeless! Christianity is the remedy for starvation!"

So the New Testament now comes in edible form?

Maybe some of those multimillion dollar churches will sell their buildings to give to the homeless. Sell those giant TVs, basketball courts, padded pews, and rec centers to fulfill their Christian obligations?

Nope. God and Jesus love those fancy churches. It gives them that feeling of importance to know their follower's money is well spent on jumbo-trons and the latest fashions for believers.

Here's an idea. Start taxing all churches the same as other businesses. Use the proceeds to help people instead of new and useless flags for a failed politician, political grandstanding at tax payer's expense by the self-pious Hamilton County Commission, and a new wellness center for political patronage.

Maybe get some of those faith-healers to the Community Kitchen to lay hands on the alcoholics, drug addicts, homeless, and helpless —without a camera crew to record "miracles".

Imagine — professed Christians actually coming in contact with those they claim Jesus wants them to help rather than tossing Bible quotes at them.

Now that's a miracle.

September 4, 2012 at 11:43 a.m.
conservative said...

As a professing atheist you would not know that those false preachers you wrote about are not Christians but charlatans. These include the health and wealth preachers, faith healers, miracle workers and raisers of the dead (always in some foreign country) and those who see visions and make prophecies that don't come true.

They don't know God from a hole in the ground any more than you do!

Now you know.

September 4, 2012 at 12:19 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

It's great to see God's favorite Christian Conservative denouncing other Christians.

It's not necessary for atheists and agnostics to point out the fallacies of revealed religion — Christians do it for them.

So you're a true Christian? Did God give you the secret handshake?

September 4, 2012 at 12:31 p.m.
conservative said...

Ah, but you do greatly err. These charlatans are no more Christian than you. You are denouncing your own for they are heathens just as you are.

Look up the word charlatan.

September 4, 2012 at 12:59 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

So what passes for being a true Christian today? It's only right you give the infidels you vast suppository of wisdom since you're among the chosen élite of Gawd.

What denomination, what sect, and how's that Jesus thing making you such a happy and caring person? The world awaits your Gawd-given righteousness.

Does it involve snake-handling? Glossolalia? Jumping up and down and writhing on the floor in church? Are you a sprinkler or dunker? Does Gawd talk to you? Do you talk back? Do you believe in talking serpents and donkeys? Are witches, demons, and Satan for real? Did the earth really stop moving for a day? Did Adam have a naval? Why did Gawd let Lot have incestuous relations with both his daughters? Did Christ really eat his own body and drink his own blood? Was Gawd a murderer in killing all the innocent men, women, and children or was it OK to break His own commandments since He's Gawd?

And what makes your judgment against other professing Christians correct?

Waiting for answers to those Biblical questions, Conservative. You got all the answers don't you?

September 4, 2012 at 1:44 p.m.
jesse said...

Trying to reason w/true belivers is like stackin b b's. you stay busy BUT never get more than one b b hi!!

September 4, 2012 at 1:54 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Con-man likes to cling to the notion that homeless and needy people are all just drug-addicted, alcoholic, lazy, irresponsible bums who are where they are through their own poor choices. Certainly some are that way but the vast majority are where they are through no fault of their own, mucn like shen described in his post.

But if con-man actally opened his eyes and mind and saw what was creating the condtions of so much homelessness and poverty, he wouldn't have an excuse for blaming and hating the people he wants to blame - the homeless themselves and the liberals who, in his mind, are "destroying" this country with "evil" socialism.

It's funny how con-man goes on to say that "the opposite of Liberalism is Christianity...Christianity is the remedy for the homeless! Christianity is the remedy for starvation!" Liberalism is the ideology that is more concerned with providing the safety nets to help and even prevent homelessness and hunger while conservatism's only advice to the homeless and the hungry is for them to just pull themselves up by their own boot straps and stop being dependent on government. Conservatives' solution to the problem is to stop spending, cut taxes, and rely solely on nonexistent or vastly inadequate charities. It is their "solution" because it is one that means they don't have to actually do anything to fix the problem, just sit back and be condemnatory of the problem itself and of liberalism in general.

September 4, 2012 at 2:52 p.m.
Oz said...

daytonsdarwin asks: What is a Christian today?

The definition of a Christian has never changed. A Christian is an imperfect person that realizes they will never be perfect. Realizing they are not and can never be perfect, Christians choose and accept the forgiveness of their Savior Jesus Christ for their sins. If Christians were perfect? Why would they need a Savior?

Christians will never be perfect. We know we are imperfect but we know God has forgiven us. Non-Christians will never forgive us because we cannot live up to their expectations. We struggle with the same temptations on a daily basis as Non-Christians. Lust, greed, power, etc. No one is immune. Christians have the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction but we don't always listen. We know better and try hard but some days are better than others.

September 4, 2012 at 9:50 p.m.
Rickaroo said...


The doctrine/concept/theory of original sin is absurd. You have a God who supposedly created a man and a woman with the express purpose (according to his "divine plan") of them disobeying him, and then when the woman does disobey him (just as she's supposed to do, according to his "divine plan") and she in turn tempts Adam to disobey, God makes every other human being born after them guilty of disobedience as well, without even giving them a chance and putting them to the same test. Just by nature of being born to so-called corrupted parents, we/they inherit their sin. And then, in accordance with his "divine plan," he decides to make a blood sacrifice of his son, which is more or less God himself come to earth in the flesh. And anybody who believes that he is really his son and that he died on the cross to "save" us from our sins, then they will indeed be "saved," and anybody who reasons that the whole story is complete BS, as it actually is, will be condemned to hell by our "loving" heavenly father, there to be tormented forever and ever, amen.

God, being supposedly omniscient, knew all along how that scenario would play out and how it will all play out in the end, yet he felt compelled to go through that preposterous charade anyway?

Now, tell me what part of that sick fairy tale is NOT ridiculous?

September 5, 2012 at 1:05 p.m.
Oz said...

Rickaroo.. Why do you want to debate something you don't believe in?

September 5, 2012 at 8:39 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Oz, where do you get the idea that I want to debate on this topic? I simply made a statement and asked you a simple question. You can answer it or not.

I don't waste my time trying to debate someone whose critical thinking skills are so deficient they cannot see how historically and scientically inaccurate, and thus nonsensical, the Bible is. Anyone who accepts blind faith as the basis of their beliefs is obviously lacking in their capacity to reason. The very word "blind" tells me everything I need to know - they have allowed themselves to become blind to the truth in order that they might take comfort in believing they are "saved" and are going to heaven.

I prefer to engage in discussions with people who seek the truth and know that truth is open-ended, not those who think they have found it inside a book or a belief.

September 6, 2012 at 12:48 p.m.
Oz said...

I don't see any part of it as being ridiculous. It sounds like you are trying to convince yourself. You are not 100% sure yourself of your beliefs. You would have to believe that you possess an infinite amount amount knowledge to believe you are 100% correct. I'm sure you have an excellent IQ but you don't have an infinite amount of a knowledge. Is it possible that God exists outside your realm of knowledge and you have yet to find him?

September 7, 2012 at 8:22 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...

Os said : "Is it possible that God exists outside your realm of knowledge and you have yet to find him?"

I can't answer for Rickaroo but for me, I don't discount that there may be some intelligent being/substance/mystery in the universe.

But I am an atheist as to the gods, God, Jehovah, and any of those mythological characters running the show. A competent study of mythology, the history of man's creation of the Bible, and the continued revelations of science eliminates any possibility that the Bible is anything other than a collection of fictional stories, that Jehovah was a Middle Eastern tribal deity and one mythological god among many, that evidence is sparse that Jesus existed, much less as a divine god, and that the collection of stories called the Bible was decided by Catholics at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, convened by Constantine to consolidate political power for himself through the Catholic Church.

There were other Christian sects at that time, including the Gnostics, and many other "Holy" scriptures that were declared heretical by the Council of Nicea. Only those books that fit into the Church's position and power were allowed. Clearly these men were picking and choosing what gave them authority and personal power. There's no indication that any deity had anything to do with it.

September 7, 2012 at 9:27 p.m.
daytonsdarwin said...


Like all myths, the Bible contains stories to instruct, to hold together a certain society, a code of conduct, punishments and rewards for those inside the society, and methods to deal with and often destroy those outside the group.

A literal interpretation of the Bible and a literal being of God places dogma above the mythological interpretation of those symbols. Only in western religions do you have the total separation of God from humanity. Eastern religions offer the opportunity to join with the deities, to become a god and participate in the mystery of life. In Oriental religions the deities are seen as symbols of the great mystery in their various aspects of duality that point to the mystery, but are not the concretion and creator of that mystery as the western God.

That's the reason that most Oriental religious beliefs have no conflict with science, humanism, and mental progress, because the deities are merely symbols or masks that are made to see through to the great mystery of the universe.

That's the reason I'm an atheist. While many look at the Biblical Jehovah and see a real being, and interpret the Bible as actual historical events,and take the Bible as the literal words of that god, I don't.

The problem in the Western religions of fundamental or orthodox viewpoints of the Christianity, Jewish, and Muslim beliefs is to make their scriptures as commands from a God, to believe their dogma as the only true dogma, and those not accepting that dogma are heretics and to be shunned, punished, or killed.

There's a universe of wonder and awe, but I don't need a deity to have created it, to demand my submission, to order me to convert or kill my fellow humans, or take up arms in a Holy crusade and destroy my neighbors because some deity said so.

Perhaps this might give you some insight into my mind and why I take a hard-line approach to those who claim a literal god, a historical and dogmatic religious belief system that accepts a deities' jealousies and wrath as commandments, and ostracizes his fellow man as sinful, wicked, and deserving of hell and damnation.

September 7, 2012 at 9:27 p.m.
jesse said...

Well it is now obvious that Darwin has read the "nag- hamaddi scrolls and taken the time to educate himself on the origins and contradictions of what now passes as Christianity!

The Gnostic Gospels were left out of the bible because the Gnostic's believed the church was not required to have a personal relationship w/God! The CHURCH was NOT gonna go along w/that AT ALL!! Religion is the biggest con game ever!It's all about POWER over the masses! Lenin had this right"religion is the opium of the masses"!! I kinda equate preachers w/ insurance salesmen!

September 8, 2012 at 11:17 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

It must be snowing in hell because I actually agree with jesse on something. Unbelievable! A very good post on the Gnostic Gospels.

DD, your synopsis of the history of the Bible and of Christianity is right on the mark. A very thorough and enlightening comment.

Oz, I don't profess to have infinite knowledge about anything. I would be a fool if I said I did. My knowledge of what lies at the core of the universe or of life itself is no greater than yours or anyone's. That is a mystery that still eludes us all.

Whenever I make derogatory comments about God, it is with reference to the Christian God that is always the topic of discussion here. Whatever form a supreme being might take, if there is one at all, I have no doubts that she/he/it is not the silly, two-dimensional, caricature of a petty, jealous, sadistic god that Christians like to cling to.

It doesn't take a super intelligence to see that the Bible is not to be taken literally. It is obviously a compilation of ancient myths. They were a primitive peoples' concept of God and their way of explaining life and their world in the only way they knew how, given their lack of scientific knowledge.

Science and the knowledge that we have gained from it do not pose a threat to the existence of "God" but only a threat to the existence of the fairy tale God that so many Bible literalists believe in, because science exposes that God for the impossible and ludicrous being that he is. Of course, no one can PROVE beyond all doubt that even that cartoonish sort of a God does not exist, but mere reason and common sense should tell anyone that (he) does not.

Whatever awaits me at the end of my days here on earth, whether it is an eternal sleep or a merging with the true core of our being and a sort of going home whence we came, I don't know for sure. But whatever it might be, I have no fear of hell or a vengeful God. Some might argue that I have a certain faith of my own that makes me believe the way I do. And I would have to say that I do indeed – faith in something is a natural part of human existence, not just for those who profess to be religious. But my faith is not a blind faith that flies in the face of science and history and intellectual understanding; rather it is one coupled with and strengthened by those very things that so many Christian fundamentalists have to deny in order to keep clinging to theirs.

September 8, 2012 at 2:34 p.m.
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