Friday, January 20, 2017

This Land Is Your Land

A few years ago, the late Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings recorded a wonderful rendition of Woody Guthrie's classic protest song "This Land Is Your Land."  Today only, Daptone Records is offering up a download of the song for free.  Get it here, listen below, and read label head Gabe Roth's description below:

"This land is your land
This land is my land

Though it has often been co-opted as a benignly patriotic campfire sing-a-long, "This Land Is Your Land" was actually written by Woody Guthrie in 1944 as a subversive protest song in biting response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." At my sister Samra's urging, we recorded our version in 2004, during the George W. Bush presidency, in an effort to re-establish it as a song about social justice.

Ironically, when Woodie Guthrie resided in Coney Island in 1950, his landlord was none other than Donald Trump's father, the infamously racist real estate mogul Fred Trump, about whom Guthrie composed his poem "Old Man Trump," including the lines:

I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate
He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed that color line 
Here at his Beach Haven family project

Using a dark re-harmonization of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" as an intro, the Dap-Kings re-arranged "This Land" as a rough blues-y march, setting the tone for Sharon to tear into the lyrics of the song with the fiery gusto of a revolutionary. However, it was the inclusion of Guthrie's rarely-heard original verses that really enabled Sharon to reclaim the song as an urgent and unambiguous demand for equality and human dignity in a nation rife with social injustice and patriotic hypocrisy.

Today, as we inaugurate a rapacious billionaire to the highest office in the land, those original verses resonate with us as loudly as the day they were written:

There was a big high wall there
That tried to stop me
The sign was painted
Said 'Private Property'
But on the backside
It didn't say nothing
This land was made for you and me

One bright sunny morning
In the shadow of the steeple
By the relief office
I saw my people
As they stood hungry
I stood there wondering
If God Blessed America for me

We are grateful to Woodie Guthrie and to Sharon Jones, two friends of the people and bitter foes of the Trumps, who have given us an essential soundtrack to our struggle. When times get dark, let us not crumble in fear and bigotry. Let us honor the unbreakable spirit of those tireless fighters who have fallen before us. Let us rise to the fight, and let us help each other never to forget this noble truth:

This land was made for you and me."

-Gabe Roth

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