Wednesday, October 10, 2007

This Land Is Your Land: Woody Guthrie

This week, we move on to one of the most famous folk songs of all time: Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."
I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world
and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter how hard it's run you down, and rolled you over, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built; I am out to sing the songs that will make you take pride in yourself and in your work. (Woody Guthrie)
If you've missed the stories behind American Songs volume 2 in previous posts and would like to catch up, please use these links:

Story behind the song:
Woody Guthrie is, of course, one of the most famous songwriters in the history of American folk music. He only lived to be 42, but in that span of time wrote 1400 songs, including that lasting anthem sung by children all over the world: "This Land Is Your Land."
In 1940, when Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land Is Your Land," one of the most popular songs on the radio was Kate Smith's version of "God Bless America." Woody heard "God Bless America" over and over and thought that it was far too idealistic. He had traveled all over the country and knew first hand the depths of poverty and sadness that existed in America. In response to the popular song, he wrote his own anthem that expressed not only deep awe and admiration of what America has to offer, but also honest doubts and questions, and in true Woody Guthrie style...a call to action!

If you are interested in Woody Guthrie's fascinating (and often quite sad) life, there are a lot of great resources:

Woody Guthrie on American Masters: This was a terrific program shown on PBS last year. On the website, you can watch additional footage and interviews with the filmmaker, Peter Frumkin (you need to download the free RealPlayer, though, if you don't already have it).

Woody Guthrie in the Museum of Musical Instruments: This is a *great* site. It takes you through various periods of Woody Guthrie's life, and as you scroll down the pages, you can click on images of his original artwork, cartoons, quotes. If you scroll down the main page, you'll even see the original, scribbled lyrics of "This Land Is Your Land" (click on it to enlarge the image, and you'll see it was originally titled "God Blessed America").

Woody Guthrie Official Website: This site has a massive lyrics index and a more in-depth biography, as well as some curriculum ideas for teachers who want to teach about Woody Guthrie in grades K-12.
I also highly recommend Kathy Jakobsen's beautifully illustrated children's book, This Land Is Your Land. The illustrations are gorgeous and depict not only beautiful coastlines and rolling fields, but soup kitchens and homeless families and city streets that *also* make up the fabric of our country. There are Woody Guthrie quotes throughout the book, and Pete Seeger wrote a terrific tribute for the final pages. I really think Woody Guthrie would have been proud of this book, and every family would benefit from having a copy. (Now how's that for a ringing endorsement?)

Here's a YouTube video of some rare Woody Guthrie footage and his own version of the song:

Lyrics (Click on the title to listen to a sample):

This Land Is Your Land 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 that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me

I've roamed and rambled and I 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

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting
This land was made for you and me

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing"
But on the other side it didn't say nothing
That side was made for you and me

In the streets of the city, in the shadow of the steeple
By the relief office I seen my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking that freedom highway
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me


Anonymous said...

hey, woody's own works "bound for glory," "seeds of man," and the collections of various writings he made "pastures of plenty" are also good resources for information on him, and what went on in his head. also joe klein's "a life" is a really in depth biography of woody, and well worth a read.

Josephine Cameron said...

Thanks for the terrific suggestions, Dan! I need to pick up that Joe Klein biography. I've heard great things about it.