Woody Guthrie: A little recession music, please
By Mickey Z.
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Dec 5, 2008
If you were to open your mouth and belt out the words “this land is your land,” you could rest assured that someone nearby would add: “this land is my land.” The chorus to Woody Guthrie’s 1940 classic is common knowledge . . . as are the first couple of verses. But it ain’t until you get to the later verses—those often omitted from official versions -- that you start comprehendin’ what good ol’ Woody had in mind:
As I was walkin’ I saw a sign there
And that sign said “No tresspassin’”
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
Woody sez: “This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, ‘cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”
Let’s not forget that Guthrie penned “This Land is My Land” in response to Irving Berlin’s saccharine “God Bless America.”
And let’s not forget the words Woody scrawled on his guitar: “This machine kills fascists.”
Let’s also not forget the power and prescience of Guthrie’s lyrics, like this from “Jesus Christ”:
Jesus was a man who traveled through the land
A hard working man and brave
He said to the rich, “Give your money to the poor,”
But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave
And this from “Pretty Boy Floyd”:
Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen
And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won’t never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home
Woody Guthrie laid the foundation for generations of American singer-songwriters to use their music and lyrics to challenge the prevailing platitudes of popular music . . . and to provide a Greek chorus of protest and outrage to keep us all more honest and aware.
With the stakes having never been higher and the denial never deeper, what we choose to do with this awareness and outrage -- right now -- is genuinely a matter of life and death . . .
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at www.mickeyz.net.