A National Treasure
Martin Luther King Day, January 19, 2009
“This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”
The highlight of the “We Are One” Concert January 18 at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday was 89-year-old Pete Seeger — introduced as the “father of American folk music” by Bruce Springsteen — anchoring a rousing version of “This Land is Your Land,” the anthem written by his late friend, Woody Guthrie, another father of American folk music.
“Lead us, Pete,” said Springsteen.
“You sing it with us. We’ll give you the words,” Seeger told the crowd.
Backed by a choir and two guitars — Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, on his right, and Springsteen on his left — the banjo-picking Seeger shouted the words to an audience that stretched down the mall past the Washington Memorial.
“As I went 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.”
Seeger, constantly exhorting the audience to join in, then sang – with seeming glee — two verses of Guthrie’s song that are never performed at Republican political events and rarely at Democratic ones, for that matter.
Seeger also changed the words around – part of the folk tradition, he would respond. Guthrie himself made some major revisions to the song, in which each verse originally ended with “God blessed America for me.”
Seeger urged the crowd to sing:
“In the square of the city, in the shadow of a steeple by the relief office I saw my people. ?As they stood there hungry, I stood there whistling: This land was made for you and me.
“A great high wall there tried to stop me. A great big sign there said, ‘Private Property.’ But on the other 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.
“This land is your land. This land is my land. From California to the New York island. From the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters. This land was made for you and me.”
I flashed on Robert Frost at John Kennedy’s inaugural. But where was Arlo?
Experience it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xg0wiOHc9tI
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