Manuscripts/Mixed Material [Letter from Woody Guthrie to Alan Lomax, September 19, 1940]
You hadn't ought to try to be too funny because if you just tell folks the truth they'll laugh at every other word. The best of all funny songs have got a mighty sincere backbone. These are the old deathbed and graveyard and parted lover songs that I sing more than any others when I need to cheer myself up. And there is something very funny about almost everything that happens if you do a good job of a telling just exactly what took place like in the song Why do you Stand There in the Rain? or about Pretty Boy Floyd or the little Boll Weevil. People that laugh at songs laugh because it made them think of something and they want you to leave a good bit up to their guesswork and imagination and it takes on a friendly and warm atmosphere like you was thanking them for being good listeners and giving them credit for being able to guess the biggest part of the meaning. Lots of songs I make up when Im laughing and celebrating make folks cry and songs I make up when Im feeling down and out makes people laugh. These two upside down feelings has got to be in any song to make it take a hold and last.
Usually I set down and knock off a song in about 30 minutes or a hour but in most of them Ive been going around humming and whistling it and a trying to get it all straight in my head what I want to say and why I want to say it and usually when I decide just exactly who the song is a going to help out if its the right bunch I can really beat or scribble her down in a hurry. The reason why you want to write songs is what keeps you going. If you got enough reason to write I say that you can knock off two or 3 pretty fair songs a week and