This machine kills fascists

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Woody Guthrie in 1943 with guitar labeled "This machine kills fascists"

"This Machine Kills Fascists" is a message that Woody Guthrie placed on his guitar in 1941,[1] which inspired many subsequent artists.

Conception[edit]

Historian Anne Neimark relates that soon after moving into a small fourth-floor walk-up apartment in Manhattan, Guthrie wrote the war song "Talking Hitler's Head Off Blues". This was printed in the Daily Worker newspaper. Then "In a fit of patriotism and faith in the impact of the song, he painted on his guitar THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS."[2]

Guthrie's stance against fascism[edit]

Historian John Partington notes that in Guthrie's opposition to fascism he conceptualized the ideology "as a form of economic exploitation similar to slavery...he straightforwardly denounces the fascists, particularly their leaders, as a group of gangsters who set out to 'rob the world'."[3] This recalled a protest strategy he had used "during the Great Depression, when social, political and economic inequality had been allegedly endangered by a small rich elite."[3] During that era Guthrie had "romanticized the deeds of outlaws such as Jesse James, Pretty Boy Floyd, Calamity Jane or the Dalton Gang both as legitimate acts of social responsibility and as 'the ultimate expression of protest', thus transforming the outlaw into an archetypal partisan in a fight against those who were held responsible for the worsening social and economic conditions".[3]

In this Guthrie cast those opposing fascism not as mere outlaws in a fascist state, but as heroes rising "in times of economic turmoil and social disintegration" to fight "a highly illegitimate criminal endeavor intended to exploit the common people."[3] Guthrie joined his voice in portraying not only as "dumb gangsters" but he also "externalized the inhuman element of fascism by describing its representatives as animals that were usually held in very low esteem and were associated with a range of bad character traits."[3] For example, he talked about the "Nazi Snake" that has to be countered in his song "Talking Hitler's Head Off Blues."[3] Guthrie would declare "[a]nything human is anti Hitler" and in his song "You Better Get Read" he has the figure of Satan declare that "Old Hell just ain't the same/Compared to Hitler, hell, I'm tame!"[3] Guthrie saw the battle against fascism as the ultimate battle of good versus evil. In a letter to "Railroad Pete" he stated "fascism and freedom are the only two sides battling...[this was the war] the world has been waiting on for twenty five million years...[which would] settle the score once and for all".[3]

Balog photo[edit]

The most famous photo of Guthrie with his anti-fascist message on his guitar was taken in 1941 by Lester Balog.[3] Historian John Partington notes that it has become iconic, in it "Guthrie, who looks to have emerged from a crowd, blowing smoke almost defiantly, harmonica holder loose around his neck, cigarette poised in his left hand, and his right arm resting on top of a guitar, across which he has brushed with broad strokes 'This Machine Kills Fascists'. This is the image of a folk outlaw. What this image has come to represent is not unlike the only 'verifiable' photo of Billy the Kid, standing at attention with his cocky stare, left hand gripping the muzzle end of his rifle. In one sense, this image of Guthrie as a folk - or cultural - outlaw, just as Billy the Kid became a folk hero".[3] Partington goes on to say that while this does serve to keep the tradition of the folk outlaw alive, we must consider "what this tradition historically and critically represents. All too often, we forget the radicalism behind Guthrie's scrawl or that the Kid's rifle might have taken a man's life."[3] Partington notes that Guthrie was one of the few folk singers of his day admitting to the extreme violence of quasi-mythic figures like Billy the Kid and Jesse James, but that Guthrie also followed folk formula and linked this to the claim that such figures were "a friend to the poor" or that "he took from the Rich and delivered to the Poor".[3] Partington says this "demonstrates both Guthrie's consideration of the real and the ideal and the tension of the outlaw figure's rugged individualism and collectivism" and thereby the historian calls on us to do the same when considering Guthrie's image.[3]

Critique[edit]

The author Greil Marcus questions the effectiveness of Guthrie's use of the phrase on his guitar, saying "Woody Guthrie had a sign on his guitar that said, 'This machine kills fascists.' That's just the kind of connection between music and politics that I'm arguing against. It wasn't a machine and it didn't kill fascists. It made Woody Guthrie and the people who listened to him feel noble. I'm not saying that he wasn't against fascism but to say that you could defeat it by singing songs is not helpful in the war against fascism." Marcus contrasted this to songs that say "fascism is the dominant mode of political behavior in the West today and it has seeped down to our everyday lives. If fascism now pervades our everyday lives and our interactions with each other, our whole understanding of social intercourse supports and ultimately affirms fascism." Marcus holds that songs on Elvis Costello's Armed Forces record do just that. He stated that "Woody Guthrie says, 'Sing my songs and defeat fascism.' Elvis Costello says, 'Fascism exists - look around you.'"[4]

Homage[edit]

Guitar manufacturer Gibson has replicated Guthrie's 1945 Southern Jumbo complete with sticker.

When appearing on a Glen Campbell hosted television show in the late 1960s Pete Seeger paid homage to Guthrie's phrase by writing "This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender" on the calfskin head of his banjo and sang "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy (and the Big Fool Says to Push On)" over images of the drawn-out war in Vietnam.[5]

In his autobiography the folksinger Donovan recalled that out of homage to Guthrie he placed the words "This machine kills" on his guitar, "thinking that fascism was already dead. My machine would kill greed and delusion."[6]

In a tribute to Guthrie, British folksinger Billy Bragg wrote the words "This Guitar Says Sorry" on his instrument in the 1970s.[7]

"This Machine Kills Fascists" is the title of

  • an Anti-Flag track on their 2001 album "Underground Network" and on their 2004 DVD "Death of a Nation", and also seen on Chris Barker's bass guitar.
  • a Today Is the Day track from their 2004 album "Kiss The Pig"
  • an album by Ethan Daniel Davidson
  • the 2005 album by US jazz trumpeter Nate Wooley
  • the 2005 film by Stephen Gammond
  • the 2009 album by Beatnik
  • a D.O.A. track on their 2008 album "Northern Avenger"

In the Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There", the character "Woody Guthrie", an 11-year old African American boy, carries a guitar case with the same label.

It is the name of two effect pedals by TYM Guitars to raise funds for humanitarian charities.[8]

The title of French punk rock compilation "Cette Machine Sert A Tuer Tous Les Fascistes" translates as "This Machine Is Used To Kill All The Fascists".

Micah P. Hinson also adorns his guitars with this slogan.

John Green, host of Crash Course and Vlogbrothers has a "This Machine Kills Fascists" sticker on the laptop on his desk[9] in the Crash Course history video series,[10] and refers to the famous photo and accompanying catchphrase in his 2008 novel Paper Towns. He commissioned the sticker design from graphic designer Karen Kavett to sell laptop stickers with the slogan on them. [11] His brother, Hank Green released an album entitled "This Machine Pwns N00bs", another reference to Woody Guthrie. In a video prior to the release of the album, Hank held up his guitar and declared that it was his "pwner". A random YouTube commenter left a comment on the video reading "This machine pwns n00bs", referencing Woodie Guthrie, which John Green has referenced a few times in his videos and in his book Paper Towns. Hank wrote the phrase on his guitar by the next video and shortly afterwards decided to call his album that.

The Obsidian/Bethesda RPG Fallout: New Vegas has a unique M1 Garand variant called 'This Machine' with the text 'Well this machine kills Commies' emblazoned on the side of the weapon as a reference / backhanded homage to Guthrie's slogan.

One of the characters in Charles Stross's Laundry Files series uses a violin that has a sticker with the text "THIS MACHINE KILLS DEMONS".

Michael Camino, Double Bass player for the British folk band Skinny Lister has "This Machine Kills Dubstep" written on his double bass.

Roger "King Buzzo" Osborne, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter, and founding member of the Melvins, released a 2014 acoustic album titled "This Machine Kills Artists".[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Robert Weir, ed. (2007). Class in America [Three Volumes]: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 337. 
  2. ^ Anne E. Neimark (2002). There Ain't Nobody That Can Sing Like Me: The Life of Woody Guthrie. Atheneurn Books. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m John S. Partington (2011). The Life, Music and Thought of Woody Guthrie: A Critical Appraisal. Ashgate Publishing Ltd. 
  4. ^ Joe Bonomo, ed. (2012). Conversations with Greil Marcus. The University Press of Mississippi. p. 116-117. 
  5. ^ Steve Martin (2007). Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life. Simon and Schuster, Inc. 
  6. ^ Donovan Leitch (2007). The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man. St Martin's Griffin. p. 69. 
  7. ^ Andrew Collins (2013). Billy Bragg: Still Suitable for Miners. Ebury Publishing. 
  8. ^ Brennan, Tim (August 1, 2013). "This Machine Kills Fascists pedals". TYM Guitars.
  9. ^ "My Computer Just Got So Much More Awesome". John Green Tumblr. October 25, 2011.
  10. ^ "Crash Course Video Channel". John Green. YouTube.com.
  11. ^ "This Machine Kills Fascists Decal". Karen Kavett blog. October 12, 2011.
  12. ^ http://www.themelvins.net

External links[edit]