Simple enough to play:


G C G
This land is your land, this land is my land
D7 G
From California to the New York Island
C G
From the redwood forest to the gulf-stream waters
D7 G
This land was made for you and me

As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no trespassin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

Woody Guthrie

The super-secret and oft-censored (or perhaps omitted, depending on whether you believe its obscurity is cause or effect) for its Communist flavor verse of "This Land Is Your Land" is especially ironic when compared to a parody version popular among my peers in elementary school:

This land ain't your land, this land is my land
I got a shotgun, and you don't got one
If you don't get off, I'll blow your head off
This land is private property.

I can't make this stuff up. D'you suppose old Woody is rolling in his grave?

I find myself wanting to say something about those wacky libertarians and small children both needing to learn how to share. Yes, I am a petty little monkey.

The parody which fuzzy and blue relates is hardly particular to one school - that version was well known in my elementary school, although our line 2 was phrased differently, and an informal survey of my dormmates indicates that the majority of students who went to American public schools encountered some version during their schooling. In my school, at least, singing of this version was disapproved but not actively punished - I imagine out of apathy, as the teachers realized that no force in the world can separate third graders from the vulgarity they rejoice in. I think they had the right idea, but for the wrong reasons. The simple fact of the matter is that as a patriotic ode, this version is far superior to Guthrie's.

Look at the lyrics of the "official" version. The message of the song seems to be a bright-eyed "America is a place where Americans can live!" (and if you include the "forgotten" verses, add an "...or is it?"). Okay, fair enough. And Germany is a place where Germans can live. So what? It doesn't exactly shout "America!", which is, after all, the point. Now look at the "bootleg" version. At first, it may seem like an assertion of territoriality, xenophobia, and brutishness, but if we inspect the lyrics closely, we find they are actually a fitting ode to American spirit and tradition.

This land is my land, it isn't your land
This speaks to the strong American tradition of private property. As all of what is now America was once a frontier, at least from the perspective of the settlers who created most of American culture, most of it was at one point turned over to private hands as an incentive, either through charter, land grant, or homesteading. America had no tradition of feudalism, and lacked the strong tradition of common land that necessitated the Enclosure Movement in Europe. In contrast with Europe, communist and socialist movements never gained much purchase in America, and while pockets of communitarian influence have arisen from time to time throughout American history, they have never become a significant influence. The 5th Amendment of the US Constitution requires "due process" and "just compensation" for property to be taken for public use, and even this power is still under challenge, with some seeking to further restrain the power of eminent domain. Meanwhile, privatization and deregulation movements urge the transfer of property currently under control of the state to private hands.
I got a shotgun, and you don't got one
One could argue that this line constitutes a reference to the Second Amendment of the Constitution - Americans, empowered by the private ownership of weapons, are able to defend their land from forces both foreign and domestic. Of course, the point of the amendment is that an armed populace could resist an oppressive regime that would obviously have weapons of its own - "I got a shotgun because you got one". Further, some would argue (and argue, and argue) that the introduction of mechanized warfare and the enactment of restrictions on private gun ownership makes the whole thing a little silly - "I got a shotgun (with a magazine of not more than five rounds), and you got a M1-A1 Abrams".

However, patriotic songs are usually allowed a little inaccuracy and anachronism - we've pretty much finished the task of "a thoroughfare for freedom beat[ing] across the wilderness", and I would use neither the words "alabaster" nor "gleam" in describing our cities, but America the Beautiful is still sung.

If you don't get off, I'll blow your head off
This line refers to the vigor with which Americans have taken up arms to defend their property and freedoms, both in repelling foreign attackers, as in the War of 1812 and the early phases of American involvement in World War II, and in opposing tyranny at home. From its creation with the American Revolution, with Shay's Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion soon after, to the Civil War and the modern militia movement, with thousands of rebellions, insurrections, skirmishes, and subversive movements in between, Americans have been fairly quick to take action when they feel that their government has become too overbearing. Of course, these campaigns have a record of success that might charitably be described as "mixed", but for our purposes, what's important is the spirit with which they are undertaken.
This land is private property.
This line restates the themes of the first line, and with its stark, standoffish tone, echoes the resolve of the third, all with a tidy conclusion to the rhyme. All in all, far more appropriate and far more inspiring than the soft-focus, geography-fetishizing tribute to inclusiveness that is the original.
In concert, Arlo relates a story that he was forced to sing This Land is Your Land in school. One day he stopped singing because he simply didn't get it. He knew his father wrote the song, and the teacher couldn't comprehend why Arlo wouldn't sing it. So, she sent him home to his father for an explanation.

Arlo trots home to Woody and asks about this song. And, according to Arlo, Woody belts out the modified version claiming "this land is my land, this land ain't your land, get the hell off my land".

Whether or not Arlo made the story up remains to be seen. His daughter played with him the night I heard the story, and she intimated to the crowd that Arlo can lay on a whopper when he feels like it, as is quite evident in his songwriting. However, if Woody didn't write a second version in that manner, I bet he still would have thought it was pretty damn funny. From what I gather, he had a sense of humor.
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

“This Land is Your Land” was originally written by Woody Guthrie on February 23, 1940 but, like most folk songs, has changed through the years. Guthrie later said that he wrote it because he was tired of hearing Kate Smith, a popular singer, sing “God Bless America” on the radio. In contrast to the unquestioning patriotism of Irving Berlin’s hit, Guthrie’s song, which he originally called “God Blessed America for Me,” actually presents a socialist critique of the country. The song has been reinterpreted through the years, and now has a sort of split personality as an inoffensive song of unity and an American socialist anthem.

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me

The melody is based on that of the gospel song “When the World’s on Fire.” No recording of the song was issued until 1951, when it was the title song of a Folkways LP.

I roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
All around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me

Each verse as originally written ended with the title line, so it would have been sung like this:

The sun came shining and I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting and the fog was lifting
God blessed America for me

The original manuscript includes two more verses, for a total of six. Until recently it was thought that Guthrie had never recorded either of these, but an April 1944 recording that includes the first of the two was found in the Folkways archives. This verse is also sometimes included by Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and other folk musicians, and it makes the socialist message of the song more explicit. As written by Guthrie in 1940:

Was a big high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property.
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing—
God blessed America for me.

No recording is known of Guthrie singing the final verse, and it is more tied both to the Great Depression and to the original title of the song, but it also emphasizes Guthrie’s original message.

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.

In part because Guthrie left these politically polarizing verses out of his recordings, “This Land is Your Land” has become one of the best known and most popular American folk songs and has even been put forward as a candidate for national anthem. Any song this widely known has spawned an array of parodies, and in this case they range from the grade school favorite with the memorable line “I got a shotgun and you don’t got one” to a recent Flash animation which features George W. Bush and John Kerry trading insults.

This animation, by JibJab and available at their website, is particularly interesting because the song’s publisher, The Richmond Organization, has claimed that it damages the song’s apolitical, unifying reputation. The odd thing about this is, of course, that this reputation was not Guthrie’s intention; when he taught it to his son Arlo he emphasized it over his other songs because he thought it was too leftist for the rest of America to remember in the decades to come.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Guthrie wrote one additional verse with more of a libertarian flavor for the 1945 songbook Ten of Woody Guthrie’s Songs: Book One, which sold for a quarter. Arlo claimed when I saw him live that Woody had taught him this verse, which is intriguing because as far as we know he never recorded it.

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking my freedom highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
Sources:
This Land is Your Land: The Asch Recording Vol. 1 CD
http://jibjab.com/
http://money.cnn.com/2004/07/26/commentary/wastler/wastler/

One more thing: The Smithsonian Folkways CD This Land is Your Land: The Asch Recording Vol. 1, the first in a series of four CDs of Guthrie recordings engineered and mastered by Moses Asch, includes three recording of this song, including the one with the fifth verse, and is a great introduction to Guthrie’s music. Here’s a full track listing:

  1. The Land is Your Land
  2. Car Song
  3. Ramblin’ Round
  4. Talking Fishing Blues
  5. Philadelphia Lawyer
  6. Lindbergh
  7. Hobo’s Lullaby
  8. Pastures of Plenty
  9. Grand Coulee Dam
  10. End of the Line
  11. New York Town
  12. Gypsy Davy
  13. Jesus Christ
  14. This Land is Your Land
  15. Do-Re-Mi
  16. Jarama Valley
  17. The Biggest Thing Man Has Ever Done
  18. Picture from Life’s Other Side
  19. Jesse James
  20. Talking Hard Work
  21. When That Great Ship Went Down
  22. Hard, Ain’t It Hard
  23. Going Down the Road Feeling Bad
  24. I Ain’t Got Nobody
  25. Sinking of the Reuben James
  26. Why, Oh Why?
  27. This Land is Your Land

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