Tuesday, July 04, 2006

patriotic melodies


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

2 comments:

tom said...

Amen.

Jeff said...

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.