Synopses & Reviews
: After a decade of worldwide depression, World War II had begun in Europe and Asia. With Germany on the march, and Japan at war with China, the global crisis was in a crescendo. Americas top songwriter, Irving Berlin, had captured the nations mood a little more than a year before with his patriotic hymn, God Bless America.”
Woody Guthrie was having none of it. Near-starving and penniless, he was traveling from Texas to New York to make a new start. As he eked his way across the country by bus and by thumb, he couldnt avoid Berlins song. Some people say that it was when he was freezing by the side of the road in a Pennsylvania snowstorm that he conceived of a rebuttal. It would encompass the dark realities of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, and it would begin with the lines: This land is your land, this land is my land
In This Land That I Love, John Shaw writes the dual biography of these beloved American songs. Examining the lives of their authors, he finds that Guthrie and Berlin had more in common than either could have guessed. Though Guthries image was defined by train-hopping, Irving Berlin had also risen from homelessness, having worked his way up from the streets of New York.
At the same time, This Land That I Love sheds new light on our patriotic musical heritage, from Yankee Doodle” and The Star-Spangled Banner” to Martin Luther Kings recitation from My Country Tis of Thee” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963. Delving into the deeper history of war songs, minstrelsy, ragtime, country music, folk music, and African American spirituals, Shaw unearths a rich vein of half-forgotten musical traditions. With the aid of archival research, he uncovers new details about the songs, including a never-before-printed verse for This Land Is Your Land.” The result is a fascinating narrative that refracts and re-envisions Americas tumultuous history through the prism of two unforgettable anthems.
"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 Ã©migrÃ© 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 Ã¢Â€Â˜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.
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 ownone 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.
About the Author
John Shaw has written on music and theater for the L.A. Review of Books and Chicago Reader. He has written more than 250 songs, including music and lyrics for three full-length and numerous short plays that have been produced in Seattle, Chicago, and elsewhere. He lives in Seattle.