The Wednesday Pop Culture Rant would like to wish Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” a happy 75th birthday. Apparently Woody had heard quite enough of Kate Smith belting out “God Bless America” on the radio and decided to compose his own tribute to the land of the free and the brave. So on February 23, 1940, Woody opened one of his seemingly endless supply of journals that contained his seemingly endless supply of ideas and commenced writing. He would carry the song around for four years before recording it, and several more years would pass before it became a sing-along we all know.
The song has everything that makes Guthrie so powerful: a catchy melody, perfectly turned lines, and an insistence that embracing all of reality is the greatest function of the artist. He could have easily called the song, “This Land is Your Land . . . Maybe” The Rant especially appreciates the rarely sung 4th verse:
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing.
That side was made for you and me.
The Rant is reminded of Solomon Burke’s (in the name of humanity, tell us you listen to Solomon) warning: “None of us are free, one of us is chained/None of us are free.” Without Woody there would be no Burke, or Dylan, or Springsteen, or Ramones for that matter. The Rant Worldwide Headquarters is located in Oklahoma, so we can visit the the original manuscript of “This Land” whenever we like at the Woody Guthrie Center. At the bottom of the page Guthrie wrote, “All you can write is what you see.” Woody refused to ever close his eyes.
So The Rant says, get out there and see something today. Then write about it, paint it, sing it, film it, and build it. Declare what’s happening, not what you wished was happening. Celebrate the beauty and shine the light on the ugliness. See for those that have become so bowed they hardly know how to look up anymore. See and see and see until none of us is chained and all of us are free.