No matter the critical barbs that Johnny Depp‘s increasingly caked-in-make-up performances garner, it’s a fair assumption that a uniquely odd passion project lies behind each dollar earned from them. One of his most recent attempts saw him returning to Hunter S. Thompson‘s acid-tinged worldview with “The Rum Diary,” which tanked at the box office. But fortunately another literary pursuit is within his reach, this time dealing with the only “fully realized” novel from folk singer Woody Guthrie, who would have been 100 years old on July 14th.
Finished in 1947 but never released, Guthrie’s Depression-set novel “House of Earth” will finally hit shelves, thanks to the help of Depp and author Douglas Brinkley, and promises to show an alternate side to the legendary songwriter known for such compositions as “This Land Is Your Land,” “Pastures of Plenty,” and “Do Re Mi.” In an essay for the New York Times Book Review, Depp and Brinkley explain how they first heard about the work, their journey tracking a typescript down at the University of Tulsa, and then announcing the process of editing the work for its eventual distribution.
It’s said Guthrie’s late-1930s Dust Bowl experiences formed the backbone of what would later become “House of Earth,” which follows two farmers in tune with their land, Tike and Ella May Hamlin, espousing the benefits of adobe houses against the brutal West Texas weather to great resistance from the lumber companies in town. Tonally set between authentic slice-of-life drama and political allegory, the novel also purports to share erotic fits on par with D.H. Lawrence, featuring “a scorching lovemaking scene on a hay bale” among other graphic scenes unspecified in their potentially uncomfortable location.
Nowhere in the essay mentions any possible film adaptation in the works, although Guthrie himself did have sights on filmmaker Irving Lerner (“Murder by Contract”) helming one while he was writing it. As for the recent revival circumstances, Brinkley met Depp through Hunter S. Thompson, and the two went on to pen liner notes for the recent documentary about the author, “Gonzo.” One could very well imagine a similar tribute being made to Guthrie as well, but for now we’ll just have to wait for his singular book’s unveiling to see what comes of it. Bob Dylan was shown a copy recently, reportedly finding himself “surprised at the genius of the prose,” so if his word is anything to go by, “House of Earth” should be something pretty special when “a major New York publisher” releases it next year. [Guardian]