By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Near the end of Sunday’s “We Are One” inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial, Pete Seeger did something that could have gotten him arrested back in the 1950s. Today, in the Age of Obama, it’s not even slightly dangerous. But to those of us who were sentient in the ’50s and remember the spirit of those times, it was absolutely delicious.
Seeger, you need to know, was blacklisted during the McCarthy communist-bating days, banned from performing on television until the late 1960s. On Sunday, the 89-year-old dean of folksingers joined Bruce Springsteen in a performance/community sing of “This Land is Your Land” as Woody Guthrie wrote it, not as it’s usually performed.
Most people grew up knowing the song as a celebration of the vastness and beauty of America. The song Woody wrote was highly political, a demand for the rights of workers and ordinary people. Even after the witch hunting days were over, the song’s last three stanzas were banned from performance.
Sunday, Pete Seeger, whose singing voice is gone and whose fingers can’t really handle the banjo any longer (he lip synched and pretended to strum), got an audience of hundreds of thousands hopping as he called out the words of the subversive verses and the audience sang them back.
Here’s a video of the performance. Below are the words Pete fed to the crowd. You, too, can sing along. (Repeat of my tip for people on dialup: Start the video, then pause it. Go do something else for about 10 minutes, then come back and play it. Goodbye stuttering. The whole thing will play through without a pause. You did go sign the Speed Matters petition to get rural broadband into the economic stimulus package, didn’t you?)
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
More on the story is here.
Posted on January 22nd, 2009 by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Filed under: Uncategorized