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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel

There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
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    Juliet's Nurse

    Lois Leveen 9781476757445

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This Land That I Love: Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the Story of Two American Anthems


This Land That I Love: Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the Story of Two American Anthems Cover




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...

Product Details

Shaw, John
History & Criticism *
Biography-Entertainment and Performing Arts
Biography-Composers and Musicians
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
9.25 x 6.13 in

Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Music » General History
Arts and Entertainment » Music » Genres and Styles » Folk » Folk and Traditional
Arts and Entertainment » Music » History and Criticism
Biography » Composers and Musicians
Biography » Entertainment and Performing Arts
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Featured Titles » New Arrivals » Nonfiction

This Land That I Love: Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the Story of Two American Anthems Used Hardcover
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Product details 288 pages PublicAffairs - English 9781610392235 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Shaw's meandering book simply retells the well-known story that Woody Guthrie wrote his epic 'This Land Is Your Land' as a rejoinder to Irving Berlin's 'God Bless America.' Side by side, he traces the similarities between Berlin's and Guthrie's upbringings, comparing some of the forces that may have led each writer to what would eventually become his most recognizable song. Berlin was a Russian émigré who rose from homelessness to wealth, and Guthrie fled the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and a broken family to fame and something like fortune in New York City. When they were young, both men 'busked for money, making up parodies of popular songs, and were known for their quick wit and eagerness to entertain.' Berlin wrote 'God Bless America' for Kate Smith so that she could have a 'special song for her annual Armistice Day broadcast.' Guthrie wrote the first draft of his anthem in February 1940 after spending days frozen on the streets and not feeling as if he lived in 'sweet America.' He cast his lyrics in a tune modified from the Carter Family's 'When the World's on Fire,' in his early sarcastic response to Berlin's song. Along the way, Shaw digresses unprofitably into discussions of other anthems that have shaped America: 'My Country ‘Tis of Thee,' 'Lift Every Voice and Sing,' and 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' Shaw's uninspiring book loses its thread in its unfocused structure and reveals no important new insights about the songs, the singers, or their relation to each other. Agent: Paul Bresnick, Paul Bresnick Literary." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by ,
A narrative history of the writing of “This Land is Your Land” and “God Bless America” that uncovers the conflicts and common ground between two classic, patriotic songs

Millions of Americans have sung “God Bless America” and “This Land Is Your Land.” Few know that the latter originated when a homeless Dust Bowl refugee named Woody Guthrie became so provoked by Irving Berlins sentimental celebration of patriotism that he began to write an American anthem of his own—one that encompassed the dark realities of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. But Guthrie was unaware that the song he despised concealed complexities all its own. Irving Berlin had also risen from homelessness before becoming Americas most successful songwriter, and penned his song partly in response to Hitlers rise overseas.

In This Land That I Love, music-writer and composer John Shaw writes the dual biography of these beloved American songs. He offers a unique view of Americas rich patriotic traditions and episodes from our tumultuous history through the prism of these two unforgettable anthems.

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