Look all over the world, to every nation on Earth. You’ll find musical giants. Germany’s got Beethoven. Over in Russia you got your Tchaikovsky. France is proud of Bizet. Italy boasts a whole gaggle of opera geniuses. Here in the U.S. of A. we’ve got Stephen Foster, Johnny Cash, John Prine and a small, curly-headed fellow from Oklahoma named Woodrow Wilson Guthrie. That little guy stacks up higher than any of them in my book. He gave us “Pastures of Plenty,” “I Ain’t Got No Home,”
“Hard Traveling,” and, of course, “This Land is Your Land” — a song that I think should be our national anthem.
“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim. Too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you.I could hire out to the other side, the big money side. And get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own kind of songs and to sing the kind that knock you down still farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think you’ve not got any sense at all. But I decided a long time ago that I’d starve to death before I’d sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow.”
Today is Woody’s 102nd birthday. He may be dead. But he ain’t gone. Please enjoy the Half Moon Jug Band’s version of “This Land is Your Land,” recorded a few years back on the Get the Show on the Road.
A couple days ago, the HMJB played a gig at a summer camp here in Maine. This year, just like every year, we played “This Land is Your Land” and the kids sang along. We never have to teach them. They’re city kids, mostly, from Boston and New York. They’re diverse. They were born decades after Woody died. But they know the words. They sing loud and they dance, too. That gives me hope.