Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This land was made for all of us

We Topangans often feel like outsiders, out of the mainstream. But this weekend, this country saw and heard a song that resonated not just with the millions of Americans that have gone unnoticed for the last eight years, but also with people who live in my own community of Topanga Canyon.

Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land" in 1940. Interestingly enough, historical accounts say he wrote it as a response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," which he thought was unrealistic and complacent. He was tired of hearing Kate Smith sing it on the radio.

I have no quarrel with the sentiments expressed in "God Bless America," but I have to say that I agree with Woody. I apologize to those who differ with me, but, frankly, I think it's a dull and boring song. It has a dumb plodding melody and unimaginative lyrics. The first Seattle Mariners game I saw televised after 9/11 they played Ray Charles singing "America the Beautiful." I loved that. Why couldn't that have been the song chosen to memorialize our national unity? Maybe it if had, the last eight years might have turned out differently.

When "God Bless America" became institutionalized as the memorial song of 9/11, it felt like duty. I will put my hand on my heart during every seventh inning stretch and sing it, but I cannot rejoice in it.

Woody Guthrie lived for a time in the 1950s in Topanga Canyon, staying with his good friend the actor Will Geer. Also around that time, singer Pete Seeger began touring the US, promoting Guthrie's songs.

This Sunday in front of the Lincoln Memorial, following Beyonce's heartfelt rendition of "America the Beautiful," Pete Seeger, his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and an assembled choir of wonderful, promising young men and women sang Woody's best known song in front of a crowd of millions, in celebration of the inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama.

It's a beautiful moment. Two wonderful songs. So full of joy. So uplifting.

Today Barack Obama will become our 44th President. I'm so happy to see this day. Celebrate! Enjoy the joy.


Briget said...

Joy, joy, joy, joy...down in my heart.

Thanks for the entry - I hadn't thought of that song in forever! But I've been watching the news all day, and That's a First. I alternate between joyful tears and just plain joy. I'm older than you, remember, and I haven't trusted a politician since 1968. I began to trust this one back about January of 2008, and today was so moving and affirming and, and, and...

I'm just in Awe of the fact that I got to see History made in my lifetime; the History that my generation believed in and marched for, then gave up and abandoned as we watched our heroes killed. We abandoned our ideals and entered the Party 80's, but I noticed a lot of "Hippies for Obama" in the crowd today - we're still here, we're still hopeful, we're still joyful today!!

phd in yogurtry said...

And Bruce is from Jersey and I'm from Jersey..see? we're all connected!

I'm with you, by the way. This Land is Your Land is far more fitting.