• patriotic melodies

    by  • July 4, 2006 • Uncategorized • 2 Comments


    It was the second night of two sold out concerts at the Cotton Bowl in the summer of Born in the USA and Reaganomics. I had been to both and had watched Bruce Springsteen hold the crowds in the palm of his hand for over four hours each night. When he came out for his fourth encore, he was alone; the E Street Band had stayed in the back.

    “Bruuuuuce,” we screamed.

    He laughed and said, “Sit down,” and he began to talk about Woody Guthrie’s song, “This Land is Your Land.” Guthrie wrote the song in response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” which he saw as overly self-focused and naive. His original lyrics differ a bit from the campfire versions we learned over the years. I woke up thinking about them this morning.

    This Land is Your Land

    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 a ribbon of highway
    I saw above me an endless skyway
    I saw below me a golden valley
    This land was made for you and me

    I’ve roamed and rambled and I’ve 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

    The sun comes shining as I was strolling
    The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
    The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
    This land was made for you and me

    As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
    And that sign said – no tress passin’
    But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
    Now that side was made for you and me!

    In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
    Near the relief office – I see my people
    And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
    If this land’s still made for you and me.

    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

    On a cold, cold winter’s night twenty years later, I heard Steve Earle sing, “Christmas in Washington,” another great patriotic psalm:

    It’s Christmastime in Washington
    The Democrats rehearsed
    Gettin’ into gear for four more years
    Things not gettin’ worse
    The Republicans drink whiskey neat
    And thanked their lucky stars
    They said, ‘He cannot seek another term
    They’ll be no more FDRs’

    I sat home in Tennessee
    Staring at the screen
    With an uneasy feeling in my chest
    And I’m wonderin’ what it means

    So come back Woody Guthrie
    Come back to us now
    Tear your eyes from paradise
    And rise again somehow
    If you run into Jesus
    Maybe he can help you out
    Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

    I followed in your footsteps once
    Back in my travelin’ days
    Somewhere I failed to find your trail
    Now I’m stumblin’ through the haze
    But there’s killers on the highway now
    And a man can’t get around
    So I sold my soul for wheels that roll
    Now I’m stuck here in this town

    There’s foxes in the hen house
    Cows out in the corn
    The unions have been busted
    Their proud red banners torn
    To listen to the radio
    You’d think that all was well
    But you and me and Cisco know
    It’s going straight to hell

    So come back, Emma Goldman
    Rise up, old Joe Hill
    The barracades are goin’ up
    They cannot break our will
    Come back to us, Malcolm X
    And Martin Luther King
    We’re marching into Selma
    As the bells of freedom ring

    So come back Woody Guthrie
    Come back to us now
    Tear your eyes from paradise
    And rise again somehow
    If you run into Jesus
    Maybe he can help you out
    Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

    “Blind faith in your government will get you killed,” Bruce told us that summer, as Guthrie had said before him and Steve Earle after.

    It’s still true.

    Peace,
    Milton

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    2 Responses to patriotic melodies

    1. tom
      July 5, 2006 at 12:17 pm

      Amen.

    2. July 5, 2006 at 4:18 pm

      I saw that same Springsteen tour, in Birmingham, Dec. ’84.

      The world has moved on a lot since those days. We have people making Woody Guthrie-type artistic statements, but their message doesn’t resonate (maybe Woody’s didn’t either in his day, it just seems so with hindsight).

      We have more technological ways to communicate than at any time in history. But we’ve mostly forgotten how to listen. And we’re inundated with media 24/7, effectively diluting almost everyone’s message.

      So, why do I still write? ‘Cause I have something to say.

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