This land was made for you and me

January 13, 2012 by Joshua
in Art, Creativity, Freedom, Leadership, Nature, NorthKorea

Like most American kids of my generation, I learned This Land Is Your Land as a children’s song, never thinking much of its meaning. A decade or two later, I heard Bruce Springsteen’s version of it on his Live 75-85 set.

His introduction first got me thinking about its meaning, especially in contrast to God Bless America. I didn’t know Woodie Guthrie wrote This Land Is Your Land as an angry song. Springsteen’s version on the album sounds mournful but then rousing and inclusive. On the Live 75-85 album I have, he introduced it as follows.

There’s a book out right now. It’s called Woodie Guthrie, A Life. It’s by this fellow called Joe Klein. And it’s really a great book.

This song was originally written as an angry song. It was written as an answer to Irving Berlin, who had just written “God Bless America.” And this song was written as an answer to that song.

And it’s just about one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

Here are the words as Bruce Springsteen sings them on the album I have.

Well I rode that ribbon highway
I saw above me the endless sky
I saw below me the golden valley
This land was made for you and me

I’ve roamed and rambled and followed my footsteps
Through the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was calling
This land was 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

Well the sun came shining and i was strolling
Through wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling
And a voice was sounding
As the fog was lifting
Saying this land was 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

Here is Bruce singing it, introducing it slightly differently, with a couple different verses, relevant to the mid-80s.

Here’s the version I know, without the introduction. I still feel chills when I hear it.

Here are the words to God Bless America.

“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer. “

God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home.

Here is the first performance of it, the version that prompted Woodie to write his song.

Here is another version of it, the first version that came up when I searched for “God Bless America” on YouTube.

Wikipedia says Woodie wrote This Land Is Your Land  because he found God Bless America “unrealistic and complacent. Tired of hearing Kate Smith sing it on the radio.” Personally I found God Bless America, while rousing and patriotic, exclusive to everyone else. That is, it promotes one country and excludes others. This Land Is Your Land just describes the land as beautiful and for everyone inclusively, since the you of “your land” could be anyone.

I’ve written before how I found the art in North Korea patriotic and rousing, pro-state and proud to exclude everything else.

Exclusive of what?

I describe North Korean art as the opposite of jazz (or blues or folk). I’m no musical historian, but I see jazz as based in individual expression and improvisation, two elements I don’t observe in North Korean art. So North Korean art excludes personal expression and improvisation. You have to do what you’re told. To its credit, North Korean performances feature stunning displays of technical skill — just highly choreographed and pre-approved by the government.

I like feeling proud of my community and I support others feeling pride for their communities too. I like that I can speak freely in my community. I don’t like when others, however proud they feel for their country, try to force or coerce others to feel or express the same emotions in the way they want (read the comments in the second video for God Bless America, for example). Or to define their community by national boundaries.

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1 response to “This land was made for you and me

  1. Pingback: Great Bruce Springsteen article in this week’s New Yorker » Joshua Spodek

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