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This Land That I Love: Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the Story of Two American Anthemsby John Shaw
February, 1940: Twenty-seven years old, penniless, and almost completely unknown, Woody Guthrie was worried he might freeze to death. Hitchhiking from Texas to New York in the hopes of a fresh start, he found himself stuck in a snowstorm outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He stood for hours in the cold, waiting for someone, anyone, to pick him up.
Throughout the trip, jukeboxes and radios had blared Kate Smiths recording of God Bless America.” With its gentle, pastoral lyric and gracefully rising and falling melody set to a stirring march rhythm, Woody hated it. He despised the Hit Parade—he called it sissy music”—but it was rare for any particular song to irritate him so much.
Some people say that it was when he was freezing on the side of the road that he decided to write a rebuttal. The Southwestern landscape and his years of wandering would figure prominently. It would talk about the Dust Bowl and the Depression. Even a job he had worked in Texas as a sign painter would make it in. It wasnt yet the song we know today—a jaunty sarcasm popped from the first draft—but the majority of the lyrics were there when he sat to write it down later in New York. Including the first lines:
This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York island...”
Guthrie might not have known that the author and composer of God Bless America,” Irving Berlin, had lived through deprivation comparable to his own...
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