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This Land is Your Land - Elizabeth Mitchell

Without doubt Bob Dylan's greatest influence was Woody Guthrie. Dylan once referred to himself as a "Woody Guthrie jukebox".

Woody Guthrie was a prolific songwriter who lent very far to the left. The only reason he can't be described as a communist is that he never became a member of the Communist Party, but in the USA, just believing in socialism is often enough to have you labelled as a "commie". His songs mainly dealt with with the American depression of the thirties and the hard times visited upon the people who went west from the mid-western "dust bowl" states looking for work in California. Guthrie was part of this exodus, and his experiences of this informed his music for the rest of his life, documenting, as it did, the lives of working class Americans and the injustices that they suffered.

His most famous song, "This Land is Your Land", has been adopted by the USA as almost a second national anthem and is taught to children in schools all over the country as a hymn to democracy which often borders on jingoism. However, the words of two verses in particular, which make Guthrie's intended meaning of the song clear, are omitted in the schools, and in most other renderings. These, verses 4 and 5 below, question the American dream, referring to the ownership of land and the dole queues, as the unjust realities of his nation.

When I tried to find recordings of the song that included all of the verses, to my surprise I found these hard to come by, on vinyl at least. Versions by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Judy Collins, the Seekers and Peter, Paul and Mary just stuck to the "authorised" script, and, on YouTube at least, I was even unable to find a "complete" rendering by Guthrie himself.

Curiously, the only full studio version I could unearth is by actress Elizabeth Mitchell, most famous for her role as Juliet Burke in the hit tv series "Lost". This is from her album "Little Seed - Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie". I love the idea that she may have smuggled a little bit of truth into at east some schools, and forgive her saccharin vocal as it necessarily sweetens the bitter pill of Guthrie's original message.

Chorus: 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.

1. As I was walking that ribbon of highway I saw above me that endless skyway; I saw below me that golden valley; this land was made for you and me.

2. I've roamed and rambled and I 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.

3. When the sun came shining, and I was strolling, and the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling, and the fog was lifting, a voice was chanting: this land was made for you and me.

4. 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.

5. In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, by the relief office, I've seen my people; as they stood there hungry, I stood there asking: Is this land made for you and me?

6. Nobody living can ever stop me, as I go walking that freedom highway; nobody living can ever make me turn back: this land was made for you and me.

The late Pete Seeger significantly had the assembled dignitaries singing along to the full version at Barak Obama's presidential inauguration ceremony in 2009. As it turned out, many of the hopes of that moment subsequently floundered in Congress. I guess it was the thought that counted.

Meanwhile, we can all relish the deliciousness of the fact that one of America's most popular patriotic anthems is really a protest song written by a "red". Who said Americans don't get irony?


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