What Fresh Hell Is This?

July 14, 2012

Woodie Guthrie, Happy Birthday

Number 34 on the 2002 National Recording Registry list of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" recordings, "This Land of Your Land" was intended, as the description on the Registry to be a "a grassroots response" to "God Bless America."

Both are songs we all know from grade school, right?

But there's more to the story.  From Will Kaufman, professor of American Culture, University of Central Lancashire, England:
Woody saw [God Bless America] as a strident, jingoistic, complacent, tub-thumping anthem to American greatness. And now, he had just come from the Dust Bowl. He’d just come from the barbed-wire gates of California’s Eden there. He’d seen the Hoovervilles. He’d seen the bread lines. He’d seen labor activists getting their head busted. And so, he’s thinking, what—God bless—what America, you know, is Kate Smith singing of? So he sits down and writes a song in response to Irving Berlin, and he calls it "God Blessed America for Me." And later on, he decides to come back to that song and change the title, change the verses, change the refrain, and it becomes "This Land Was Made for You and Me."
We all know the beginning lyrics.  But do you know the ending?  There are many versions from Guthrie himself but let's take a look at how Arlo Guthrie (Woodie's son, in case you're younger than 40 or so) ends it:
As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.
Happy Birthday, Woodie.

I wonder what you'd think about Citizens United, the Koch Brothers, the Tea Party Movement.

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