Corbin Hiar, a Nation intern, gives Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen short notice for their rendition of "This Land is Your Land," mentioning the performance only as an "unenviable task,"since it followed the president-elect.
It merits far more attention.
It's long been one of our great national anthems--although, years ago, while interviewing Seeger, I mentioned that it should be made the national anthem, he replied, "Perhaps not. Can you imagine a brigade of America soldiers marching into some Central American country singing, 'This land is your land, this land is my land'?"
So perhaps while it is an anthem better kept amongst the people than recognized officially, the significance of its performance at the Lincoln Memorial before 750,000 onlookers on the occasion of Barack Obama's inauguration as our first African-American president looms large for those of us of a certain age.
Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, both champions of the common man and grassroots democracy, were both scorned and vilified by their government and blacklisted for decades. The song itself is one of hope and inclusion for all Americans, its bowdlerized stanzas finally restored (as the Daily Kos has noted) and sung for the nation:
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.
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.
As I watched the performance I felt it signaled a great restoration, a return to values discarded and scorned over the past thirty years of conservative and neoliberal rule.
Perhaps that swell of emotion was just an illusion and perhaps Obama will prove to be more like what we are all far too familiar with than many of us would like to see. But for those few minutes of song I was moved to tears, overwhelmed by such a strong sense of hope for our future. That's what songs are for, that's what that song is for. Particularly when sung by Pete Seeger on such an auspicious day.
San Francisco, CA
Jan 19 2009 - 9:25pm