An Okie In Coney: Woody Guthrie’s Coney Island Years

A page from a collection of Guthrie's sheet music includes his Mermaid Avenue address

In preparation for next year’s centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth, today’s New York Times carried a story about an exhibition and study center being built – in honor of the man who wrote This Land Is Your Land – in his home state of Oklahoma.

Due to the article’s focus, it failed to mention that beginning in 1946, Woody spent around eight years living at 3520 Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island.

He even wrote a song about it.

Want more proof?

 Mermaid’s Avenue
Words by Woody Guthrie, 1950, Music by Frank London (Klezmatics), 2003

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where the lox and bagels meet,
Where the sour meets the sweet;
Where the beer flows to the ocean
Where the wine runs to the sea;
Why they call it Mermaid Avenue
That’s more than I can see.

CHORUS:
But there’s never been a mermaid here
On Mermaid Avenue
No, I’ve never seen a mermaid here
On Mermaid Avenue
I’ve seen hags and wags and witches;
And I’ve seen a shark or two
My five years that I’ve lived along
Old Mermaid’s Avenue

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where the saint and sinners meet;
Where the grey hair meets the wave curls
Where the cops don’t ever sleep;
Where they pay some cops to stop you
When you hit that Sea Gate gate;
Where them bulls along that wire fence
Scare the mermaids all away

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where the sun and storm clouds meet;
Where the ocean meets that rockwall
Where the boardwalk meets the beach;
Where the prettiest of the maidulas
Leave their legprints in that sand
Just beneath our lovesoaked boardwalk
With the bravest of our lads.

CHORUS

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where all colors of goodfolks meet;
Where the smokefish meets the pretzel
Where the borscht sounds like the seas;
This is where hot Mexican Chili
Meets Chop Suey and meatballs sweet;
Mermaid Avenue she’s a nervous jerk
But, still, she’s hard to beat.

You can read the New York Times piece here.

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