Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What isn't clear about "This Land is Your Land"?

Kansas RINO, whom I generally like, has some odd things to say about music:
When Republicans are feeling patriotic, they tend to sing (or play) "Proud to be an American" by Lee Greenwood. This is the song of choice for political conventions, campaign rallies, gala banquets, etc. It's a terribly sappy song, but it's been the standard soundtrack since Reagan.
Substitute "hitt" for "app" in the last sentence, and this would nail it on the head. My (least) favorite line: "I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free." "At least"? Really? We could basically boil the song down to "America: sufficiently better than Russia." This isn't patriotism, it's blind nationalism. And the difference is instructive. Why exactly Lee Greenwood wants God to bless America is really left to the imagination of the reader, and it's not clear that Greenwood has a good idea beyond that it's where he happens to live. Plus the tune blows chunks.

Anyway, KS RINO continues:

Democrats like to sing Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." … The lyrics aren't particularly telling. You have to understand the history of the song and songwriter to understand why the Democrats love this song so much. Guthrie was a Dust Bowl leftist who wrote politically charged ballads about the evils of rich people.
The lyrics aren't telling? I mean, I can understand that since I told some of the back-story of the song on July 4, one might think that the song needs explanation, but really, look at the lyrics and tell me you don't know why Woody loved this country?

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.

Could it be that – and I swear I'm just guessing here – this nation, and all its beauty, is there for everyone equally? Could Woody have been expressing something about egalitarianism and the importance of freedom? The breadth of the nation, Manifest Destiny in action, the big sky overhead setting no limits and the long road of opportunity before you, not a care for anyone who would stand in your way: it's the American Dream.

And when I tell you that he was a labor organizer, and that his songs extolled the common man and encouraged people to recognize and fight against inequality, it certainly adds more to it. When you know that he rode the rails across the country, hoboing and singing from California to the New York Island, that he raised himself up from Dust Bowl poverty to fame, that really just adds to the message. America is and always has been a land of opportunity, and bringing that opportunity to everyone was one of the great legacies of men like Woody Guthrie and Franklin Roosevelt.

And, for reference, the song was not written in "the 30s." It was written in 1940.

There are other excellent patriotic songs from lefties, too. I'm a fan of Power and the Glory” by Phil Ochs from the album All The News That's Fit to Sing (1964, 2:17).

Come and take a walk with me through this green and growing land
Walk through the meadows and the mountains and the sand
Walk through the valleys and the rivers and the plains
Walk through the sun and walk through the rain

Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all

From Colorado, Kansas, and the Carolinas too
Virginia and Alaska, from the old to the new
Texas and Ohio and the California shore
Tell me, who could ask for more?

Yet she's only as rich as the poorest of her poor
Only as free as the padlocked prison door
Only as strong as our love for this land
Only as tall as we stand

See also Pete Seeger's interpretation: The Power and the Glory” by Pete Seeger from the album God Bless The Grass (1966, 2:32).