Woody Guthrie: A Little Recession Music, Please

If you were to open your mouth and belt out the words “this land is your land,” you could rest assured that someone nearby would add: “this land is my land.” The chorus to Woody Guthrie’s 1940 classic is common knowledge…as are the first couple of verses. But it ain’t until you get to the later verses—those often omitted from official versions—that you start comprehendin’ what good ol’ Woody had in mind:

As I was walkin’ I saw a sign there
And that sign said “No tresspassin’”
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

Woody sez: “This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, ‘cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”

Let’s not forget that Guthrie penned “This Land is My Land” in response to Irving Berlin’s saccharine “God Bless America.”

And let’s not forget the words Woody scrawled on his guitar: “This machine kills fascists.”

Let’s also not forget the power and prescience of Guthrie’s lyrics, like this from “Jesus Christ”:

Jesus was a man who traveled through the land
A hard working man and brave
He said to the rich, “Give your money to the poor,”
But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave

And this from “Pretty Boy Floyd”:

Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen
And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won’t never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home

Woody Guthrie laid the foundation for generations of American singer-songwriters to use their music and lyrics to challenge the prevailing platitudes of popular music…and to provide a Greek chorus of protest and outrage to keep us all more honest and aware.

With the stakes having never been higher and the denial never deeper, what we choose to do with this awareness and outrage—right now—is genuinely a matter of life and death…

Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook. Read other articles by Mickey.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. HR said on December 5th, 2008 at 10:46am #

    I suspect Woody would have come up with some great lyrics regarding the lies being circulated about how union workers are to blame for the high price of cars and trucks, lies that are supposed to make us blame unionized working-class “greed” for all the problems facing the poor old auto companies — and, by extension, blame it for all our problems … just get rid of organized labor, and all will be well is the fascist message we are supposed to believe.

    I bet that in those lyrics, Woody would point out that a large part of the cost of anything sold lies in the labor required to assemble it, the labor to mine the resources, transport them, refine them, machine them into the final product designed by yet other laboring folks. He wouldn’t have needed to read Adam Smith to figure that out either.

    Woody would undoubtedly have a few choice words for the modern robber barons whose only goal is profit, at the expense of labor, those who cut costs by moving their factories to places where sweatshop labor is the norm. I swear, it is time for our government, supposedly of, by, and for us the people to place a bounty on the heads of the wealthy scum who keep us in bondage.

  2. bozh said on December 5th, 2008 at 11:05am #

    i wonder why i haven’t heard of woody guthry until just a decade. an dnow i know why.
    as an unpaid songwriter, i understand how hard it is to write a song that rhymes and deliver’s a potent message.
    here’s the ending of one of my songs:
    stand up, and look them in eyes
    and tell them, no more lies

  3. Deadbeat said on December 5th, 2008 at 11:29am #

    I miss Public Enemy.

  4. Mickey Z. said on December 5th, 2008 at 7:20pm #

    Thanks, all. In the interest of fairness and balance, I’d like to share something Joshua Frank e-mailed me yesterday: “Don’t be so kind to Woody, the pawn of the Dept. of Interior. He wrote songs promoting the construction of dams along the Columbia River, which kicked out native peoples and eventually led to the virtual extinction of the large salmon populations. He didn’t once step up to defend the natives or the environment. The power that came from the dam rolled on up to Hanford, the infamous H-Bomb factory. Guthrie ain’t no hero, he was a blatant supporter of cultural genocide.”

  5. Don Hawkins said on December 6th, 2008 at 6:48am #

    Money money money money
    Money money money money
    Money money money…

    power tends to corrupt and the way things are going there will only be a very very few very very corrupt.

  6. Don Hawkins said on December 6th, 2008 at 8:00am #

    Tax and 100% dividend. A “carbon tax with 100 percent dividend” is required for
    reversing the growth of atmospheric CO2. The tax, applied to oil, gas and coal at the mine or
    port of entry, is the fairest and most effective way to reduce emissions and transition to the
    post fossil fuel era. It would assure that unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar shale and tar
    sands, stay in the ground, unless an economic method of capturing the CO2 is developed.
    The entire tax should be returned to the public, equal shares on a per capita basis (half
    shares for children up to a maximum of two child-shares per family), deposited monthly in
    bank accounts. No bureaucracy is needed.
    A tax should be called a tax. The public can understand this and will accept a tax if it is
    clearly explained and if 100 percent of the money is returned to the public. Not one dime
    should go to Washington for politicians to pick winners. No lobbyists need be employed. Hansen

    Money money money. The money we now see going to the very very few in trillions is tax payer money whatever that is looks good on paper and the reason they are getting this money is because power tends to corrupt. So far what chance does that plan that Hansen put forth have, none. I will say it again when El Nino comes back as it has started to do it will be a look into future and should be an eye opener. The time is now and we will not wait tomorrow started yesterday and we are already late one voice and to do this the system must change no other way it’s a nobrainer. Of course the lobbyists who work for the very very few will being trying there best to keep getting that money money money and keeping the system the same the very system that got us to this point in time and space. It’s the history channel I can’t help it. Think of this as kind of a war.

  7. Hue Longer said on December 6th, 2008 at 5:29pm #

    Thanks Mickey for your response to Joshua,

    I’m all for hero killing but like to point out to folks that the man is never the message to begin with. Truth is truth and just because woody may have been a dick, it doesn’t mean that 2+2 doesn’t equal 4 because he said it.

    Cheers

  8. Annie said on December 8th, 2008 at 9:10am #

    When I was a little girl, my Dad played Woody Guthrie songs on his guitar for me. The words were powerful and influential (and silly and fun.) Everyone who reads this article should read up on, or better yet, listen to Woody. It will impact and inspire you too!