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Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913 Hardcover – 27 Jul 2017
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“A masterful tale of music, social, and economic history…. Wolff’s elegantly intertwined historical drama is consistently revelatory. A dazzling, richly researched story impeccably told.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“In this book—so soberly inflamed that the pages seem to turn of their own accord—the history of the American twentieth century is made of lodestars that don’t figure in conventional accounts… It is at precisely this moment that its story will be most fully heard.” (Greil Marcus)
“In Grown-Up Anger, Daniel Wolff assembles an American triad to raise the ghosts of greed and misery. Through memory, music, and a clear insight into the emotional process of protest, Wolff reminds us of how it did, and how it does, ultimately feel.” (Patti Smith)
“The path leading from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan has been well traveled, but Daniel Wolff has gone off-road and forged bold new connections between the two cultural titans… The result is an imaginative tour de force that sheds new light on…the heartbreaking history that created them both.” (Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor, Rolling Stone)
“No matter how much you think you know about Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, you’re wrong… This is the best sense anyone has ever made about the connection between them, and the best reappraisal either has had in a couple of decades.” (Dave Marsh)
“…Wolff provides a primer on the complicated history of anger, political and personal, in American music, one that’s never been more needed than it is today. There aren’t many cultural histories that read like they’ve been written for activists and fans. Grown-Up Anger moves to the head of that list.” (Craig Werner, Evjue-Bascom Professor of Afro-American Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of A Change Is Gonna Come)
“…an exciting romp across labor union history through the lens of American music. Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie’s protest and solidarity songs represent the disaffection of those marginalized by industrialization, war, and later globalization. If you’re not sure why we need unions… consider Daniel Wolff’s Grown-Up Anger a must read.” (Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, local 1 of the American Federation of Teachers)
“…Wolff provides a primer on the complicated history of anger, political and personal, in American music, one that’s never been more needed than it is today. There aren’t many cultural histories that read like they’ve been written for activists and fans. Grown-Up Anger moves to the head of that list.” (Timothy B. Tyson, author of The Blood of Emmett Till)
From the Back Cover
In this tour de force of storytelling, Daniel Wolff braids together three disparate strands—Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and a labor strike in northern Michigan—to create a devastating revisionist history of twentieth-century America.
At thirteen, when he first heard Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” Wolff recognized the sound of grown-up anger. When he later discovered “Song for Woody,” Dylan’s tribute to Guthrie, Wolff fixed on it as a clue to a distinctive mix of rage and compassion. That clue led back to Guthrie’s “1913 Massacre”—a memorial song about the horrific conclusion to a union Christmas party in Calumet, Michigan.
Following the trail from Dylan to Guthrie to a tragedy that claimed seventy-four lives, Wolff found himself tracing a century-long history of anger. From America’s early industrialized days up to the present, the battle over economic justice keeps resurfacing: on a freight car in California, on a joyride through New Orleans, in a snowy field in Michigan. At the stunning conclusion—as the mysteries of Dylan, Guthrie, and the 1913 tragedy connect—the reader discovers a larger story, purposely distorted and buried in time.
Daniel Wolf’s Grown-Up Anger chronicles the struggles between the haves and the have-nots, the battle to organize American workers, and the way two musicians used their fury to illuminate injustice and spark hope.See all Product description
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About the same time, I was sitting on a friend’s loaned book called Healing Back Pain by the late Dr. John Sarno. As Sarno did with his own migraines, he found it useful to look for emotional triggers to the back pain in the patients he’d seen for over thirty years. I was experiencing a physical trauma like nothing I’d experienced before, but, faced with surgery and out of options, I eventually read his book. I had something like a laying-hands experience, realizing that I had all kinds of repressed anger (childish and sometimes justified) that I wasn’t acknowledging. When I began to pay attention to this anger, I was able to come off pain pills.
I don’t say all of this to deny there are real scientific reasons people need back surgery (or any particular medical therapy for migraines), but the experience taught me a great deal about how repressed anger is in our society. We may see it all over the media, but in our day-to-day lives too many of us turn on ourselves for having such emotions. I can’t write about Daniel Wolff’s Grown-Up Anger without acknowledging that context and how it helped me to understand why the music that rotates around the rock and roll axis has been absolutely central to my ability to navigate this life.
That’s Wolff’s opening hook. At 13 years old, he heard Dylan’s voice singing “Like a Rolling Stone” and the anger in it gave him a new kind of strength. About 12 years later, I would have a similar experience with Springsteen and the punks, but I’ve never found the words to describe it. Wolff describes it precisely, honing in on a point that (I hope) justifies my intro. “It didn’t really matter what he was angry about. At thirteen, I recognized the sound and was amazed and delighted: somebody was fighting back.”
Grown-Up Anger is a book about many things. It’s a book about the realities of the folk music that inspired that young Bob Dylan to emulate Woody Guthrie, yes, but also to push beyond the boundaries of perception that framed both artists. It’s a book about art as artifice and the importance of artifice for finding Truth. The realities of Guthrie’s life and Dylan’s life were not the parts they played, but the parts they played were (and are) real. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a book about why and how so much music fights for social justice. Guthrie drew on the plainspoken style of The Carter Family’s Sara Carter to bring the sound of truth to his visions of an America he believed might be and his reportage on an America he’d known all his life, famously ingrained on his psyche by a family’s lynching just south of his hometown Okemah, Oklahoma. A generation later, Dylan drew on Guthrie’s look and sound to engage with the Civil Rights movement, to find some end to war and speculate new frontiers for human liberation.
Grown-Up Anger speaks to both their successes and their failures. As artists do, both Guthrie and Dylan attempted to reconcile the individual vision with the social need for that vision. While Dylan ultimately received the Nobel Peace Prize for a career kick-started by his desire to mix folk music and R&B (or rock and roll), the weight of his career triggered a number of turns against the movements he helped create. As individualist and ornery as Dylan in his own way, it’s hard to tell whether Guthrie’s relative loyalty to movements marginalized him or led him to greater audiences than he otherwise would have known. Grown-Up Anger is the kind of book that’s big enough to acknowledge the truth in both perspectives.
In the end, Grown-Up Anger is a book that reclaims the fight from a tragic story arc. Centered on “1913 Massacre,” a song Guthrie released in 1941 about the death of miners and their families in Calumet, Michigan when “copper boss thugs” yelled fire during a Christmas party. 73 died, 59 of them children. Like many of us, Wolff first learned the song from a 1972 Arlo Guthrie version, but he’d known the tune since he first heard it as “Song to Woody” on Dylan’s 1962 debut. The book deals with folk traditions and suggests how and why Dylan would turn this song into a more self-deprecating tribute to his hero, but it also tackles the mystery of the massacre and the century long struggle to bring the truth to light.
It is 259 pages you’ll want to read again, but what I keep returning to is its conclusion. The post-1945 economic boom that lasted just up to the launch of Dylan’s career made it difficult for the younger artist to fully embrace the older artist’s politics. However, as the end of the book drives home so unforgettably—flashing from snapshots of the individuals lost in the massacre and the area surrounding the massacre 100 years later to long views of history that show how both the economy and the organizations built to fight for workers’ rights have collapsed over the course of that century—the reasons for the anger live on. Certainly, aspects of the mystery surrounding the Calumet massacre remain unsolved, but the story’s clear enough. It’s a story where the wives, sisters and children of Finnish miners matter right alongside the stories of folk singers and rock stars. It’s a story that shows we have a right to our anger, both individually and for all the losses of the past century. As important, it’s a story that urges us to honor that anger and put it to good use.