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Book examines labor history through music of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and the 1913 Calumet Massacre

Nov 14, 2017

A music lover can likely pinpoint the moment a song or a lyric crashes its way into your young consciousness. And then things are never the same.

For writer Daniel Wolff, that moment happened in 1965, when he first heard Bob Dylan.

Wolff was 13 at the time, and the experience led to his latest book: Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913.

Wolff explores the 20th century through the lives and songs of Dylan and Guthrie, which led him to the story of the tragedy on Christmas Eve 1913 in Calumet.

The so-called Italian Hall disaster happened during a Christmas party for the families of striking miners. Seventy-three people died, most of them children.

Woolf joined Stateside today with music critic and author Dave Marsh.

Listen to the full interview above, or get a taste of the conversation below.

On what hit Wolff so hard when he first heard Dylan singing “Like a Rolling Stone”

“Well, the same thing that just hit me when you played that little snippet which is, ‘This guy’s telling the truth – telling the truth, which included some anger.’ I was a very angry 13-year-old, which I think has me fit in with most 13-year-olds. And what adults kept saying to me was, you know, ‘You’ll get over this. You’ll grow up. You won’t be angry, you won’t be pissed off that the world isn’t quite fair.’ And when I heard Dylan on the radio, I thought, ‘You know what, I might not grow out of this. This guy is talking my language.’”

Wolff then went excavating Dylan’s earlier albums. In doing so, he uncovered “Song to Woody.”

He then started exploring Woody Guthrie’s music. That led him to the song “1913 Massacre,” released in 1941.

On what popped into Wolff’s brain when he realized Dylan had basically used the exact melody that Woody used in “1913 Massacre”

“So Dylan’s song – the 'Song to Woody' – was a testament to his mentor. And, essentially saying, ‘I can’t be Woody Guthrie.’ Which is for a while what Dylan wanted to be more than anything in the world. The '1913 Massacre' is the same kind of testament to a sort of lost chance. And a lost hope. Guthrie wrote it, as you say, during the Second World War. And it’s, you know, Guthrie was famous for saying, ‘I write songs that build you up, that give you hope.’ This isn’t one of them. This is about a massacre and a tragedy.”

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