Cover image for This land that I love : Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the story of two American anthems
Title:
This land that I love : Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the story of two American anthems
ISBN:
9781610392235
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
viii, 274 pages : photographs ; 25 cm
Contents:
God blessed America -- Jews without money -- From sea to shining sea -- Come on and hear! -- Oklahoma hills -- Rockets' red glare -- An atmosphere that simply reeks with class -- If you ain't got the do re mi -- Storm clouds gather -- The faith that the dark past has taught us -- My pastures of plenty must always be free -- Freedom's road -- These songs were made for you and me.
Summary:
Near the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II, a homeless Dust Bowl refugee named Woody Guthrie originally drafted "This Land Is Your Land" as an anthem that encompassed the tough realities of those dark times--and as a rebuttal to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." But the song that Guthrie despised had its own complexities. Irving Berlin had risen from homelessness before becoming America's most successful songwriter, and penned his song partly in response to Hitler's rise overseas. In This Land That I Love, music-writer and composer John Shaw writes the dual biography of these beloved American songs, at the same time shedding new light on our patriotic musical heritage, from "Yankee Doodle" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" to Martin Luther King's quotation of "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 patriotic and musical traditions. With the aid of new archival research, he uncovers new details about the songs' composition, including a never-before-printed verse for "This Land Is Your Land." The result is a fascinating narrative that refracts and re-envisions America's tumultuous history through the prism of two unforgettable anthems.
Holds:

Available:*

Library
Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Copies
Status
Searching...
Book 782.421599 SHA 1 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book 782.421599 SHA 1 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book 782.421599 SHA 1 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book 782.421599 SHA 1 1
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

February, 1940 : 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. America's top songwriter, Irving Berlin, had captured the nation's 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 couldn't avoid Berlin's 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 Guthrie's 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 King's 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 America's tumultuous history through the prism of two unforgettable anthems.


Author Notes

John Shaw has written on music and theatre for the Los Angeles Review of Books and Chicago Reader. He has written many songs and performed them in many contexts. He lives in Seattle with his family.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 emigre 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. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

In telling the stories of those unofficial U.S. national anthems, God Bless America and This Land Is Your Land, Shaw tells those of most of their predecessors, too, including the official one, The Star-Spangled Banner. So doing, he recaps much American musical-entertainment history and intertwines the careers of his main subjects' creators, Irving Berlin and Woody Guthrie. Berlin, though responding to a request for a march, crafted a song he preferred be delivered as a prayer-like ballad (he got his client, Kate Smith, to first sing it that way, too, though she reprised it martially). Guthrie never really finished his song, tinkering with the words until Huntington's disease disabled him (others, including Pete Seeger, further messed with them). Coursing through the account is a concern for antiblack racism, always the greatest challenge to the sentiments of U.S. national anthems. Shaw writes unusually accessibly (e.g., using solfege when discussing musical phrases) but sometimes sloppily (e.g., notes of indeterminate pitch huh?). Finally, the bibliography is more popular than academic, and the recommended listening essay is full of fascination.--Olson, Ray Copyright 2010 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

IN LATE 1938, with the world on the brink of war, Kate Smith asked Irving Berlin, the world's most famous songwriter, for a patriotic song she could sing on her annual Armistice Day radio broadcast. He dusted off and reworked a number he had begun writing in 1918 but abandoned. Before introducing the song to her vast national audience, Smith predicted that it "will be timeless - it will never die - others will thrill to its beauty long after we are gone." The song was "God Bless America," and its journey to timelessness began almost immediately. Within a year many were talking about it as a possible replacement for "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem. Not everyone thrilled to its beauty. Some found it sentimental and jingoistic, Tin Pan Alley at its phoniest. One of them was an itinerant and virtually unknown folk singer named Woody Guthrie. In early 1940 Guthrie wrote an answer song, suffused with a gritty populism but as fervent as Berlin's in its love of country. Its original name was "God Blessed America" ("for me," the refrain continued). By the time Guthrie first recorded it, four years later, it was called "This Land Is My Land." It would ultimately come to be known to millions as "This Land Is Your Land." The intertwined stories of these two songs, Jody Rosen wrote in The New York Times in 2000, offer a "mix of midcentury politics and national mythmaking" that "could fuel a semester's worth of American studies seminars." I don't know about the seminars, but there is now a book devoted to the topic. Well, sort of. John Shaw, who has written about music for various publications, attacks his subject with the enthusiasm of a fan and the dedication of a scholar. But anyone who expects "This Land That I Love" to deliver what its subtitle promises - "the story of two American anthems" - is likely to be disappointed. What Shaw has written is more back story than story. He is two-thirds of the way through his narrative before Berlin's song makes its debut, and it's almost 20 more pages before Guthrie begins writing his response. Along the way Shaw has much to say about the lives and careers of Berlin and Guthrie, and about the musical traditions from which they emerged. (He is particularly insightful about Guthrie's debt to the country-music pioneers the Carter Family.) But he also goes off on a lot of tangents. In particular, he writes so much about "The Star-Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful," "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" and even "Dixie" and "Yankee Doodle" that his book at times reads like a survey of all "American anthems," not just two. Perhaps that's the book he should have written. Those digressions at least have a clear connection to Shaw's ostensible subject. Less clear are his reasons for dwelling on things like blackface minstrelsy, the 1949 movie "The Third Man" and why people with ethnic-sounding surnames often change them when they go into show business. His discursiveness is frustrating, because both songs could easily have been explored in greater depth. (There is enough to say about "God Bless America" alone that the music scholar Sheryl Kaskowitz recently published an entire book about it.) When he notes that both Bing Crosby and Gene Autry recorded "God Bless America" not as a march but as a ballad, the way Berlin had originally written it, one waits to learn more about their interpretations. Instead he shifts gears to discuss "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the song the N.A.A.C.P. declared the "Negro national anthem." The Crosby and Autry recordings are never mentioned again. When he sticks to his subject - as when he examines the distinctly American strain of mysticism at the heart of both "God Bless America" and "This Land Is Your Land" - Shaw can be entertaining and informative. He can sometimes be entertaining and informative even when he doesn't. But as he roamed and rambled and followed his footsteps through the story he set out to tell, it would have been nice if he had taken fewer detours. PETER KEEPNEWS is an editor at The Times.


Choice Review

Bringing together Irving Berlin and Woody Guthrie, Shaw (journalist and musician) offers a fresh approach to understanding the history of national anthems--two in particular--in the US. Beginning with the musical rise of Berlin and Guthrie (for both of whom he provides brief biographies), Shaw looks at "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Dixie," "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and other national anthems but focuses on Berlin's "God Bless America" and Guthrie's creative counter, "This Land Is Your Land," the latter written in 1940 but not popular until the 1960s. Shaw explores each song's lyrics, explaining their antecedents and broader connections. He draws on a wide range of primary and secondary sources in presenting these fascinating stories. Readers interested in this subject should also consult Robert Santelli's "This Land Is Your Land": Woody Guthrie and the Journey of an American Folksong (2012) along with full-length biographies of Berlin (e.g., Philip Furia's Irving Berlin, CH, May'99, 36-4998; Edward Jablonski's Irving Berlin, CH, Oct'99, 37-0842) and Guthrie (e.g., Ed Cray's Ramblin' Man, CH, Jul'04, 41-6431; Joe Klein's Woody Guthrie, CH, Jul'81). Including numerous photographs, a list of recommended recordings, extensive notes, and a detailed bibliography, this is a fresh approach to the songs' musical origins and highlights. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. R. D. Cohen emeritus, Indiana University Northwest


Kirkus Review

The juxtaposition of two of America's most enduring national anthems. The beginning of this provocative history of Woody Guthrie's persistent folk song and elementary school staple "This Land is Your Land" and Irving Berlin's overly sentimental "God Bless America" is a visceral scene. Writes music and theater critic Shaw, "Woody Guthrie was worried he might freeze to death. Twenty-seven years old and almost completely unknown, he was hitchhiking to New York and had been stuck outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, standing for hours in a snowstorm, waiting for someone, anyone, to pick him up." It's also a supposition, one of many that the narrative is built around: "Some people say that it was when he was freezing on the side of the road that he started thinking about a rebuttal [to "God Bless America"], a song that would give vent to his leftist politics." What people, exactly? From there, this is a by-the-books (lots of books, with little original research) retelling of a story most folk-music fans know already. Shaw tries hard to weave tenuous threads between Berlin, the wealthy, internationally famous songwriter, and Guthrie, the singer/songwriter with a chip on his shoulder and a bunch of Carter Family melodies in his head. Berlin's story doesn't resonate well here; even 40-something years gone, Guthrie casts a very long shadow. Shaw does unearth an interesting alternative version of "This Land is Your Land" from the Woody Guthrie Archives. Written in the 1950s, it loses much of its politics, substituting mystical imagery about fertility and joy. For readers who want to delve deeply into one of these two specific songs, this book is a pleasant, harmless diversion. More casual readers would be better served by Joe Klein's 1980 biography or, better yet, Woody's own 1943 story, Bound For Glory. Shaw tries to pull off the same trick here as Alan Light did with Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" in The Holy or the Broken (2012), but there's too little weight here to justify the act.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Excerpts

Excerpts

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 Smith's 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 wasn't 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... Excerpted from This Land That I Love: Irving Berlin, Woody Guthrie, and the Story of Two American Anthems by John Shaw All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1 God Blessed Americap. 1
Chapter 2 Jews Without Moneyp. 9
Chapter 3 From Sea to Shining Seap. 23
Chapter 4 Come On and Hear!p. 39
Chapter 5 Oklahoma Hillsp. 59
Chapter 6 Rockets' Red Glarep. 73
Chapter 7 An Atmosphere That Simply Reeks with Classp. 87
Chapter 8 If You Ain't Got the Do Re Mip. 107
Chapter 9 Storm Clouds Gatherp. 123
Chapter 10 The Faith That the Dark Past Has Taught Usp. 137
Chapter 11 My Pastures of Plenty Must Always Be Freep. 155
Chapter 12 Freedom's Roadp. 175
Chapter 13 These Songs Were Made for You and Mep. 195
Acknowledgmentsp. 207
Appendix: The Textual History of "This Land Is Your Land"p. 211
Recommended Listeningp. 219
Sourcesp. 227
Notesp. 237
Indexp. 253