Woody Guthrie 1912 - 1967. Is This Land Made For You and Me?

July 14, 2012 | Alyson

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Woody guthrieWoodrow Wilson Guthrie would have been 100 years old today. Despite his death 45 yeas ago, his songs still resonate.  In fact, some seem as if they were written only yesterday.

Guthrie wrote This Land is Your Land in 1940 as a response to Irving Berlin's God Bless America. Guthrie had travelled the length and breadth of the United States during the worst of the Depression, looking for work, painting signs and playing his guitar and singing. I don't think Guthrie's version is any less patriotic than Irving Berlin's, but it did paint a fuller, more honest picture of the state of the union.

Everyone knows this song; versions exist in many different countries (as a kid I always thought our own - "from Bonavista to Vancouver Island"  - was the original).  Like the best folk songs, it could be adapted and changed.  Woody Guthrie'soriginal song  includes verses I had never heard before:

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

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.

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.

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

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.

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?

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 inspiration for verses five and six could have been taken from the headlines of this morning's newspaper -  powerful, seemingly untouchable banks, foreclosures, disenfranchised people out of work.

This rousing rendition is from Barack Obama's inaugural concert in 2009.


 I don't think there would have been a Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs or Billy Bragg without Woody Guthrie first blazing a trail.

Toronto Public Library's collections reflect Woody's vast legacy.  Here's but a smattering of works featuring Woody's music and life story:


             Woody guthrie sings...                  Dust bowl ballads                 Woody guthrie live wire

   Woody Guthrie Sings Folk Songs  Dust Bowl Ballads                Live Wire

             Thislandwasmadeforyouandme                   Pastures of Plenty               Woody Guthrie American Radical

            This Land was Made...      Pastures of Plenty               American Radical


     I love a good man outside the law,
just as much as I hate a bad man inside the law.

-Woody Guthrie, "Pretty Boy Floyd" lyric sheet notation, 1940's.


Spoken like a true iconoclast.  Live on, Woody!