Monday, 28 July 2008

My favourite irony

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.

'This Land is my Land' is something of an alternate national anthem in the USA, written by semi-mythical folk legend, Woodie Guthrie. What is usually ignored is that Guthrie was a life long socialist and the early versions of the song, as sung by Guthrie, contain verses criticising private land ownership, and the church and the government's failure to address the real needs of the American people.

Unsurprisingly, these verses are usually omitted, or replaced by less challenging fare:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

Joe Klein's biography of Guthrie is a remarkable book. As Klein remarks, Guthrie has become a bit of a folk myth, a hobo-like figure from the dust bowl, sanitized of his political convictions. I used to have a copy of it, but it was 'borrowed' by a friend of mine and never made it back to me. The last I heard, my friend wasin India, working in television. I like to think the book still out there somewhere, pursuing its own hobo-ish course across the sub-continent.

1 - 'This Land is My Land,' by Woody Guthrie, originally published in 1944. The full lyrics can be found on wikipedia, amongst others: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Land_Is_Your_Land#Original_1944_Lyrics

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