19 January, 2009

Better Days Ahead

In 1940, in response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America", which Guthrie considered unrealistic and complacent, Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land." At the time he, along with Lee Hays and Pete Seeger were with the Almanac Singers, a group of folk singers who sang peace songs wherever they could, from Greenwich Village cafes to Northwest logger's camps.

Hays and Seeger later went on to considerable success in the late forties with the Weavers, before being black-listed in the early 1950's. Guthrie, whose health began deteriorating in the late 1940's, never enjoyed anything like the fame or success of the Weavers.

In 1944, Guthrie met Moses "Moe" Asch of Folkways Records, for whom he recorded "This Land Is Your Land." It wasn't until the folk revival of the late 1950's however, that this recording gained any notice. Pretty soon the song became a standard with folk singers and was even put into music books for school children to sing. Hearing this on his death bed, in the mid-1960's, Guthrie told his son Arlo to make sure that all of the lyrics were sung, "even the Communist lyrics."

Here are the lyrics. The "Communist lyrics" are highlighted in red:

words and music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me


I've roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me


The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me


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.

Chorus (2x)

When I was a child we sang this song in grade school. We didn't sing the Communist lyrics. (Though sometimes we did sing: "I saw baloney, a big salami …") I was in my early thirties before I even found out about the Communist lyrics.

On 18 January 2009 song was sung by Pete Seeger, and his grandson, Tao Rodríguez-Seeger, at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.

The song was restored to the original lyrics for this performance at Pete Seeger's request.

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