Saturday, September 6, 2008

This Land

I've been working that Pittsburgh steel, I thought you knowed
I've been a dumpin' that red-hot slag, way down the road
I've been a blasting, I've been a firin', I've been a pourin' red-hot iron
I've been hittin' some hard travelin', lord
-Woody Guthrie, "Hard Travelin'"

Do singers in other countries sing as much about traveling and the road, getting from one place to another whether by air, train, car, truck, or feet? In Ireland, singers often sing about a place, but it's generally with a sense of either exile or nostalgia. It's hard imagine Germans singing about goin' down to Stuttgart town, but maybe they do. I can't think of many songs by the Beatles or Stones or Who about traveling ("Goin' Mobile" does come to mind), but Bob Dylan's epic  "Blood On The Tracks" is a litany of place names. And that's just one album.

Americans sing less about the joys of moving on and more about the necessity of it -- what Canadian Joni Mitchell called the urge for going. Willie Nelson sang that "still is still moving to me," which captures the urge for going about as well any song I've heard. Maybe the greatest American song of all -- "This Land Is Your Land" -- is not only about the road and the land, but how it belongs to all of us -- how we are it and it is us. 

This morning, I discovered this wonderful photoessay written in 1935 by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov for Pravda. Every time they found a place that they thought represented America, the residents assured them that it did not: "They said that the genuine America was the southern states, while others affirmed that it was the western ones. Several didn't say anything but vaguely pointed a finger into space." That sounds about right...

Woody sings "This Land Is Your Land":

3 comments:

Sylvia K said...

Yep, love all those guys! Great post as always, thanks!

Renegade Eye said...

The subversive verse about private property, was missing if I'm not mistaken.

rgg said...

There's a beautiful "children's" book called This Land Is Your Land which features the lyrics (including the "subversive" verse), wonderful illustrations, and bits of Woodie trivia. Well worth the $15 or whatever it costs.