To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts... As the sun was shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving, and the dust clouds rolling
As the fog was lifting, a Voice was calling -
"This land was made for you and me." No American lyricist has ever surpassed those lines for sheer American-ness - for an unselfconscious imagery derived from the real sight of his own two eyes and not from the pages of other people's poetry. You can remember those lines and hundreds more like them, and you can sing them again and again - and you want to. And Guthrie was able to do that in song after song, marrying his words to tunes sometimes traditional and sometimes of his own making but always ending up with compositions that were just, well, supremely singable. Guthrie's radical politics still give some people pause, perhaps more in these benighted and reactionary times rather more than in decades earlier - but even in this regard there are serious misunderstandings of what he actually created. Consider, for example, the lyrics of two of his most famous creations, the above-quoted "This Land Is Your Land" and "Plane Wreck At Los Gatos," better known as "Deportee." Singers today often jubilantly include the verses from "This Land" that didn't make it into the school songbooks or folk revival LPs - the one about the "No Trespassing" sign most famously. But take a look at the real penultimate verses: 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.
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 still made for you and me? Not a lot there to argue with there, I would think - no party-line commie-loving armed-revolutionary sedition, just the powerfully evocative compassion of a poet who loves his country and his people and who wants to see justice done both for them and for himself. Or take the conclusion of "Deportee" about the crash that killed more than twenty itinerant farm workers - The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"
Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards? Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit? To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil And be called by no name except "deportees"?Again - could anyone seriously argue against such a sentiment or condemn it as radical? This is the real political Woody Guthrie, if not the sum total of his beliefs at least the very core and essence of them - compassion for people and passion for justice. In the four years of this blog, even focusing as it mostly does on pop-folk music, Guthrie's name has appeared in dozens of posts - as how would it not? - and six of his songs linked below have full articles on them, with a selection of different interpretations by various artists and more reflections on Guthrie and his legacy. For this post, I would like to conclude with three videos, one of Guthrie's first disciple and great friend Pete Seeger recalling WG, and two covers of the songs alluded to above that I find especially moving. It's the best way I can think of to remember the man who gave us so many other wonderful songs to sing. Pete Seeger On Woody Guthrie Seeger, Springsteen et al. 2009 Inaugural Concert Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris et al, - "Deportee" _________________________________________ Comparative Video 101 Posts On Woody Guthrie Songs 1. "This Land Is Your Land" 2. "Deportee" 3. "Pastures Of Plenty" 4. "The Sinking Of The Reuben James" 5. "Hard Travelin'" 6. "Hard, Ain't It Hard"