This Land Is Your Land
February 23rd, 1940 in New York City was just another cold winter day. The airwaves had been full of "God Bless America" sung by Kate Smith, the previous year. Woody Guthrie, staying in the Hanover House, a cheap hotel on the Bowery, decided to respond to the Irving Berlin song. At the top of a piece of notebook paper he wrote "God Blessed America", and began the first verse with "This land is your land..." This would later become the title. At the bottom of the page he ended with, "All you can write is what you see."
The first thing I notice about this document, is the beautiful cursive handwriting that Woody had. It loops and rolls across the page like the tide coming in on a lake. The next thing I find so striking it is the fact that the song is practically fully formed in Woody’s mind, and it almost seems like he is jotting down dictation. This takes nothing away from the artful beauty and power of the song. If anything it seems to enhance Woody's genius.
Woody Guthrie spent his life writing what he saw. From the Dustbowl Ballads to The Reuben James, the Children's Songs and the Ballads of the West, Woody tried to put in song the world he saw around him. He said it best, " The songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you."
Here's a piece from NPR's "All Things Considered" on the writing of "This Land Is Your Land".
Happy February 23rd, and thanks, Woody