Posts Tagged ‘Irving Berlin’

Woody Guthrie -This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie -This Machine Kills Fascists

Since we’re in the midst of the Fourth of July weekend, I thought this Sunday’s musical selection should be something with a definite American flavor.   The song is This Land Is Your Land from the great Woody Guthrie.

You are no doubt familiar with this song, probably thinking of it as a cheery, upbeat song about the beauty and breadth of our democracy, sung often by smiling church and school choruses.  It’s become a kind of populist national anthem which is sort of ironic given its beginnings and the words of the song.  You see, there are verses that are seldom sung by the choruses and flag waving nationalists, verses that very much change the tone and meaning of the song.

Guthrie wrote the song in the late 1930’s in response to the immense popularity at that time of  the Kate Smith version of God Bless America, written by Irving Berlin.  Guthrie saw the world coming apart due to the nationalistic extremism that had spread through Europe, producing fascist leaders such as Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain.

The original intro to God Bless America had the lines: While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free / Let us all be grateful that we’re far from there, / As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.  That phrase that we’re far from there was later changed to for a land so fair.  Guthrie saw it as a call to an isolated form of nationalism, one that cast a blind eye to the perils lurking abroad that were beginning to spread here as well as our own problems at home.  Problems like poverty and inequality.

Guthrie wanted to address these problems in his retort to Berlin’s song.  At first, Guthrie sarcastically called his song God Blessed America For Me before naming it This Land Is Your Land.

Below are the two verses in the original version of This Land Is Your Land that are always omitted from those cheery civic versions speak to the ills of this country as Guthrie saw them, most noticeably  the greed which led to the great chasm of inequality between the wealthy and the poor of this land.  He questioned how a land with so much wealth and beauty, one based on the equality of man, could tolerate the extreme poverty and injustice he saw in his travels across this land.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
by the relief office I saw my people.
As they stood hungry,
I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.

It’s an interesting song that speaks to this crazy time in the world as blind nationalism rises abroad and here in the USA.  Give a listen to this wonderful version of the song from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and pay special attention to the words.  Have a great Sunday and a great 4th.

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GC Myers- Passing Clouds

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.
-Helen Keller


Who can speak more about optimism than Helen Keller?

I still struggle to get my mind around how she persevered to overcome blindness and deafness.  Such a remarkable thing.  It makes me question my own strength of character, makes me wonder how I would respond if similar circumstances.  I wonder how well known her life’s story is to the younger generation, outside of the tale of her early years with the woman, Anne Sullivan,  who taught her how to join the world as portrayed in the play and movie, The Miracle Worker?  That drama, while marvelous, doesn’t tell of the great influence that Helen Keller had through her life as an activist and inspirational speaker.  She is a pretty amazing case, to say the least.

That brings me to this  little piece, a new 12″ by 12″ canvas that I call Passing Clouds.  There’s a lot of joy, a lot of bright-eyed optimism in this painting, both in the process of painting it and in the final product.  It’s one of those pieces that I truly enjoyed every moment that I worked on it and never felt a twinge of doubt about the strength or validity of it.  It felt in rhythm with the first brushstroke and every subsequent move was made with complete confidence.  That’s a rare thing.  Usually there is a struggle at some point.  But occasionally things come together and a painting like this flows out with complete ease.

No, there are no clouds over this one.

I wanted to include a version of Irving Berlin‘s classic song  Blue Skies, one of my favorites.  But as I searched  I came across this different song  with the same title from Tom Waits.  I had forgotten this song that I hadn’t heard in many years but it immediately came back to me.  Just a lovely small song, perfect for a lovely small painting.

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A friend posted one of my favorite songs online a few weeks back, the Nat King Cole version of  Irving Berlin‘s classic What’ll I Do.  As with just about anything Nat King Cole performed,  it’s a great rendition of the song.  I have heard numerous versions of this song  as it has been recorded by hundreds of artists since Berlin wrote it in 1923 and, for the most part, they’re all wonderful- a tribute to Berlin’s skill as a songwriter.  But I wanted to hear one that I hadn’t come across yet .

I found a version from the  great  Chet Baker, the late Jazz musician who  I mentioned briefly in a post earlier this year.  I find him a fascinating subject.  His story is tragic and the images of  his physical change through the years from the ravages of drugs and violence are heartbreaking.  As a young lion of the jazz scene, he was truly the Golden Boy, strikingly handsome and hugely talented, and you can see life beat him down in the photos over time.  There’s a worn down sadness in his being that makes a perfect match for the melancholy tones of a song like this.

Give a listen on a slow and quiet Saturday morning…

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