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Protest To Patriotism: How “This Land Is Your Land” Evolved Over Time [Watch]

first_imgLast night, Lady Gaga kicked off her Half Time performance at Super Bowl LI with two songs about America from the same era. She started off her performance with the lines God bless, America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above, from Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” She immediately transitioned into a segment of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” perhaps the most well-known lyrics from the song, This land is your land. This land is my land. This land was made for you and me.While there have been some that have praised Lady Gaga for her apolitical half-time show, such statements seem ignorant, rather willfully or not, of the deeply political history of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” Guthrie’s own well-noted radical beliefs, and the deeply entwined history of Berlin and Guthrie’s songs in the context of one another.“This Land Is Your Land” was written in the early 1940s after Guthrie moved from his childhood home of Oklahoma to New York City. It was written by Guthrie out of frustration to frequent air-time of Irving Berlin’s (and also Gaga’s opening song for her half-time performance) “God Bless America,” which Guthrie felt overlooked the prejudice and poverty he had seen firsthand throughout the country during his Depression-era travels.Originally titled “God Blessed America for Me” and with each verse ending with that line as a direct jab at Berlin’s song, Guthrie eventually settled on the name “This Land Is Your Land” after his irritation faded. However, make no mistake that the song in and of itself was always deeply rooted as a political protest song.Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”While frequently the lyrics that the common American conscious remember are conciliatory and inclusive in a fairly sanitized way, the final verse from the original lyrics that Guthrie penned were, This land is your land, but it once was my land, / Until we sold you Manhattan Island. / You pushed our Nations to the reservations, with the final lyrics to close out the song reading: This land was stole by you from me. Such direct criticism of the historical disenfranchisement of American Indians is seldom mentioned or remembered in elementary school classes when the song is taught.Furthermore, another verse within the middle of the song reads, One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple / by the relief office I saw my people. / As they stood hungry, / I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me, a fairly overt reference to the government at that time’s inability to take care of its citizens. Considering that “This Land Is Your Land” wasn’t officially released until 1951, more than ten years after its original writing, this verse was not included in the recording, most probably Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, believes that due to the anti-radical political sentiment raging during the start of the Cold War and the political oppression of communist groups during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.In modern times, “This Land Is Your Land” contains a message that seems almost directly pointed at Trump’s executive order to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border: There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. / The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’ / But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing. / This land was made for you and me.However, such lyrics shouldn’t seem surprising from a man who was deeply committed to the Labor movement and whose initial curiosity with the Socialist movement at the time eventually developed into an enduring interest and relationship with the Communist party of the time (though he did not officially join the party, as he enjoyed the freedom on non-affiliation). As Hitler rose to power in WWII, and specifically after the invasion of the Soviet Union, causing Stalin to join the United States and the other Allied forces, the folk singer felt a renewed sense of patriotism. Guthrie’s message became staunchly anti-fascist, with him slapping his famous “This Machine Kills Fascists” sticker on his guitar and penning and performing songs that echoed that sentiment.Woody Guthrie performing with his guitar with the sticker “This Machine Kills Fascists.” [Photo via the Washington Post] “This Land Is Your Land” continues to function both as the subversive protest song initially imagined by Guthrie and as a patriotic anthem loved by all. In fact, at points, the well-known and inclusive nature of the song has allowed it to be used overtly in protest settings, as seen below in the video of protesters at JFK Airport opposing the recent travel ban by the Trump administration, courtesy of the Guardian.Protesters at JFK Airport sing Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”Regardless of what you feel about the political history of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and how that translates to when it is played today, below, you can take a gander at some of our favorite acts coming together to play this classic American tune in the past.Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings[Video courtesy Café Corsari]Los Lobos and Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, 7/2/1989[Video courtesy of Youtube user, palealien]Bruce Springsteen, 10/30/1985[Video courtesy of Youtube user, OberstKrautwaschl]Jim Page & Leftover Salmon, 12/31/2013[Video courtesy of Darin Ranes]Arlo Guthrie, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, & More, Farm Aid, 1987[Video courtesy of Farm Aid]Avett Brother’s Performing “Pretty Girl From Annapolis” With “This Land Is Your Land” Interlude, 11/4/2016[Video courtesy of Youtube user, LifeOnBethRow]last_img

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