THIS LAND THAT I LOVE                     JOHN SHAW
Posted:  Jan. 21, 2014

This Land that I Love by John Shaw  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.

This book is more than just about two men who wrote songs. The author not only gives you an over view of their lives but also a history lesson on music. The songs of our country from the Revolution thru the civil war, the war of 1812, world war one, world two and beyond. He goes into the back ground of songs and their makeup, the way they have change over the many years. The types of rhythms, or beats. How some songs started in churches, or your field songs, (slave songs) that is where the songs originated and moved from the fields and churches to homes. Then he went into how ragtime music came about and other bar type songs, then the start of show tunes. During this time Irving Berlin who had migrated to this country from what is now Belarus. Came to this country in 1893 with his family because of Jewish prosecution, over 4 million Jews leave Russia during this period. By 1901 is out on his own peddling his songs trying to earn a living. By the time Woody Guthrie, is born in 1912, Berlin has written over a 100 songs and had more than enough money to buy his mother a home in the Bronx. Guthrie born in Oklahoma spent part of his childhood their and a place called Pampa, Texas. They moved there after his mother was put in a state hospital in Oklahoma. He grew up during the dust bowl and it would have a profound effect on him for the rest of his life. He lived in Pampa during what was called black Sunday April, 14 1935. They say 300,000 tons of topsoil was airborne that and the picture in the book is nothing like I have seen when they talk about the dust bowl. I can’t image anyone living through that day but they did. Berlin wrote God Bless America, in 1938 for the 20 year anniversary of the end of world war one. Kate smith sang it and for the most part it was a hit right away. War was looking closer so people were playing it on the radio. Guthrie thought the song was full of it. He did not see a country beautiful or anything that the song talked about. He saw people out of work the government taken farms, long lines for food, everything was backwards unless you had money. So he wrote a song to go against God Bless America. This Land is your Land. Once you break down the song and understand where Guthrie was coming from I can see what he was trying to say, I did not see that before. I have to say I already liked both of these songs so this just gave me a better appreciation for the songs and the men who wrote them. I got this book from net galley.

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