Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Happy Birthday

...to John Steinbeck. I know I keep wishing happy birthday to dead people, but there are just so many wonderful dead people to honor. John Steinbeck is one of them, being my favorite American author. I was first introduced to his writing when I was given a copy of Of Mice and Men to read in school. I think I must have read the Red Pony earlier, but it bored me senseless. Of Mice and Men, on the other hand, was a marvelous thrill.

I remember reading it in the back seat of the car on some kind of road trip, and my mother reached over the back of the seat demanding to have a look at my book. She insisted on reading the books the high school English department assigned to her daughters in case they assigned pure filth. I don't recall the novel, but she blacked out all the "filthy" words in one of my sister's books, so I was afraid of what she would do to my Steinbeck. I handed it over dutifully and was forced to submit to a one-hour rant about the ruination of society when base language was permitted. And what was wrong with me that I wasn't offended by Steinbeck's choice of words.

I have been listening to a Nanci Griffith CD lately, and I can't help but sing with her when she belts out the Woody Guthrie song, You Ain't Got that Do Re Mi. I include the lyrics here because they fit the story of The Grapes of Wrath so perfectly:

Lots of folks back East, they say, is leavin' home every day,
Beatin' the hot old dusty way to the California line.
'Cross the desert sands they roll, gettin' out of that old dust bowl,
They think they're goin' to a sugar bowl, but here's what they find --
Now, the police at the port of entry say,
"You're number fourteen thousand for today."
Oh, if you ain't got the do re mi, folks, you ain't got the do re mi,
Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.
California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see;
But believe it or not, you won't find it so hot
If you ain't got the do re mi.

You want to buy you a home or a farm, that can't deal nobody harm,
Or take your vacation by the mountains or sea.
Don't swap your old cow for a car, you better stay right where you are,
Better take this little tip from me.
'Cause I look through the want ads every day
But the headlines on the papers always say:

If you ain't got the do re mi, boys, you ain't got the do re mi,
Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.
California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see;
But believe it or not, you won't find it so hot
If you ain't got the do re mi.


dive said...

Oh, wow! John Steinbeck!
Happy Birthday!
He's my favourite American author, too … closely followed by Harper Lee and some girl called Robyn.
Thanks for this lovely post, Robyn. I'm still chuckling at your Mother's comments.
I shall go home and wear my Woody Guthrie teeshirt (yes, I have one) and re-read The Grapes of Wrath tonight.

Dear Prudence said...

Robyn I took every English class that was possible during my Junior and Senior year in high school because of a wonderful teacher, Mr. Loomer. He did a 1/2 year on Steinbeck and I have to say he made those stories come to life for me.

One of my favorite Nanci Griffith's Cd is The Dust Bowl Symphony. She does a duet with Darius Rucker,( Hootie) called Love at the Five and Dime. If you are from small town America and had a 5 & 10 this song resonates. We still have one in the town Sassy is from and they still have the Soda Fountain counter. I go there sometimes just to reminisce. I can picture them dancing after hours. Plus, I think that Darius has a fabulous voice and he should get gone with the Blowfish and do some solo work.

Robyn said...

Dive, if only I were a Steinbeck--hee hee. I am not at surprised that you have a Woody Guthrie t-shirt. But do you have a Weaver's T-shirt?

Prudence, my town had a Ben Franklin, and I dug under the seat cushions quite ofte for change to buy candy there, and I recall my Buster Brown shoes came from the same store. I'll look for that CD--I love Nanci Griffith's voice.

Oh, and my English teacher's name was Mr. Wray, and I owe him thanks for introducing me to Thomas Hardy.

dive said...

No Weaver's T-shirt I'm afraid, Robyn.
And I'm glad you're not a Steinbeck. He would look nowhere near as cute with that big old ball …

lynn said...

OOoh Of Mice And Men. Wonderful. My son is studying it right now and i just want to sit there talking about it endlessly and extolling its virtues, discussing its issues with him!

Obviously, this is horribly uncool so i don't get to do any of that :(

Sassy Sundry said...

I love that cover. Nanci is amazing.

Happy Birthday, John. Thank you for helping to teach me about the Depression.

Old Knudsen said...

I also read the mousey men book I mean who hasn't?

he has a last name that sounds like a beer.

Robyn said...

Beck's beer, to be specific Old K.

Ms Mac said...

He's my favourite American author too. We read Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath in school and I swear they were the only two assigned reading books that weren't a complete chore. The only author I actively looked for outside of school hours.

So happy birthday John Steinbeck.