On Wednesday, on his terrific blog about arts and culture in Venango County, Dittman posted a link to a t-shirt with a graphic of a guitar and the words "This machine kills fascists."
I thought, "Neat graphic. Don’t know what it means, but interesting."
Meanwhile: I subscribe to the New Yorker. Usually I get through each issue within two weeks of receiving it, but a few years ago I fell behind and a big pile built up. I’m gradually getting through them.
So it happened that today, I was reading — an article about Woody Guthrie.
Here’s the paragraph that connected the dots for me:
Once Hitler ventured into the Soviet Union and Stalin joined forces with the Allied powers, Guthrie became patriotic; he supported the United States’ involvement in the Second World War and pasted a hand-painted sign onto the front of his guitar: "This Machine Kills Fascists." He kept it there after the war, in reference to another target: the cultural power brokers who, in his view, oppressed folk artists by rewarding sleek professionalism.
I’ll guess that most people who reference this slogan — especially those who buy the t-shirt — are unaware of either of these meanings that Guthrie ascribed to it. To people today, it seems to mean that music can be a tool for striking back against the powers-that-be, especially governments but also corporations.
It’s good to remember what Guthrie originally meant when he painted this on his guitar, and to see the layers of meaning he and other people have added to it over the years.