Why Oh Why? by Woody Guthrie on Throwback Thursdays

“Why oh why oh why oh? Why oh why oh why? 

Because, because, because,  because!

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.”

Woody Guthrie, the “Dustbowl Troubadour,” was born in 1912.  He  left an impact on the world of American Folk Music that has not lessened in the 35 years since his passing, at age 55.  His hundreds of original and traditional songs are an integral part of the American Song Book. Father to eight children, he has a particularly delightful collection of children’s songs. Why Oh Why, is one of my all-time favorites, and a regular part of my live shows and classrooms.

I teach the kids the chorus, give them a few examples of the questions (I use Woody’s originals or a few I’ve made up along the way) and then I invite them to ask a question that I answer through the song.  Not only is it a lot of fun, it keeps me sharp!  It is often a silly and unexpected trip into imaginary places where it could rain root beer, or polar bears could be pink, or birds could eat elephants. It is always a hit.

At a recent show, a little boy asked me “Why did my Daddy have to go to Iraq and leave us here?” It nearly stopped me cold. I answered “Because of how happy you’ll all be when he comes back.” The little boy seemed satisfied with my answer; he and his mom came and thanked me after the show. It was the best I could do with a three-second window, but it kept me up that night. I’m still relieved I didn’t burst into tears at that moment, and that in some small way, I could give that little boy an answer to a question he had probably been asking since his father left.

I have looked at the song differently since that day. There is an underlying philosophical nature to Why Oh Why, that universal desire to understand our lives and the  world around us that is present as soon as we have thoughts to share.  Woody Guthrie, like Maurice Sendak, Roald Dahl, Ruth Krauss and other Greats, understood that children are as complicated and aware individuals as are adults. That youth and inexperience are merely reflective of time spent on earth, not capacity to question and understand.

“Why oh why oh why oh? Why oh why oh why? 

Because, because, because,  because!

Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.”

4 comments

  1. Brilliant post, Alina! I have known this song all my life and never really appreciated it until now.

  2. I am so glad to have taken the time to read and listen to this post. I too had read the lyrics to this years ago and just turned the page. I have feeling this will become a song my prek kids will truly enjoy…. And keep me on my toes! Thanks. BTW, WHY did you decide to post this song now? 🙂

  3. Because it is always a good time to ask questions!

  4. Brilliant.
    I, too, had passed over this song, which now has much greater meaning with the context you offer. Thank you ever so much for a great post.

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