Monday, November 9, 2009

Pete Seeger and The Advent Of 'This Land Is Your Land' On My Life

Literally, one of my earliest memories is of my dad sitting at our dining room table, a yolk-colored classical guitar sitting on his knee as he played and sang, 'This Land Is Your Land'. My dad has a beautiful alto voice, high and reedy – and even though he doesn't play and sing very much anymore, when he does, he still sounds exactly like he did when I was a kid.

As a child, I would sit underneath the large, rectangular oak table, playing with my Fisher Price Little People while he sang his way through the folk canon, chin jutting out as he reached heavenward for the highest notes. There was the eponymous, 'This Land Is Your Land' and 'The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia'. 'Take Me Home Country Roads', 'Tom Dooley' and 'City Of New Orleans'. Even a little Beatles ('Norwegian Woods') for good measure.

He wasn't the greatest guitar player in the world. He spent more time looking for the next chord (the note he was singing held out as long as it took to get his fingers in the right place) than it should've taken to play the whole song, but I didn't care. I liked being unwittingly serenaded while I played with my toys.

As an adult now, sitting at a different dining room table, listening to Pete Seeger sing, 'This Land Is Your Land' (on an old record my dad has called, I Can See A New Day), this is the the song that sticks out in my mind, the song that my childhood is concretized around. I know most of its verses by heart - well, at least the first three – and though I don't hear it sung out loud very often, when I do, my whole heart lifts just a little bit. It's a mash note to America, to a beautiful country full of diverse climes and starry, starry skies.

It's also the anthem of how I want to live my life. The words of the chorus say everything: "This land is your land, this land is my land...this land is made for you and me."

Equality for all, right there in a song for everyone to sing.

My dad taught me that.


  1. "But on the other side, it didn't say nothin'."

  2. Such a sweet post Amber! I love that song too. And I love that Guthrie wrote this song in protest to Irving Berlin's God Bless America. I can hear my grandmother saying, "who protests Irving Berlin?" But Guthrie thought Berlin's song was unrealistic and he didn't want to invoke God to solve America's problems. (again, with my grandmother in the background...) My Dad would practice blues sax while I did my homework. Bo Diddley keeps the pencil hopping. Glad to have found your blog!

  3. Lovely post. At the risk of repition (and apologies in advance for it) one of the re4asons I am a huge fan is not just your talent but who you are as a human being. And this post underlines those qualities.

    You are a compassionate and decent lady. Long may it be so :)

  4. I had forgotten what a powerful song it is.

  5. Your Dad sounds a lot like mine... all those old songs bring me straight back to my childhood.
    There was a period when my Dad was really stressed at work and he'd get up 1/2h earlier in the morning to play the guitar (at that hour he'd usually try a little classical music). It was the most beautiful sound in the world to wake up to! It's no wonder I hate waking up to an alarm clock now... so violent!

  6. Gotta love Pete Seeger. I grew up listening to him, Arlo Guthrie and Peter Paul and Mary because my parents were into folk music. The Garden Song and If I Had a Hammer are some of my childhood songs. :-)

  7. make some recordings of your father singing

  8. Its pleasing to see the universal sign of childhood memories - dad playing the guitar. mine was much the same, with much coming from...

    Almost heaven
    West virginia
    The blue ridge mountains
    The shenandoa river...

    I've always wanted to make my way around the States and investigate, but my visits to the USA have been NY / LA / SF, so I've never gone into the mountains...

    One day. If theres any decent, dreamy, photos for 10.30 on a rainy english night tho LOL...

  9. On Springsteen's live box set "there's a book out right now by this fella Joe Klein" goes on to tell how his book "Woody Guthrie" explains This Land was an angry song in response to Irwin Berlin who had just written "God bless America"; as some one in the UK wanting to visit the US "This Land" conjured up such vivid images, got to visit the US a good few times always with the song playing in my head

  10. Sweet sweet post-your Dad must be very proud.

  11. When I was a wee one my Granny and I would sit on the floor, with me in her lap, while she sang songs from her hymnal. I thought then that she had the most beautiful voice, and it's true. She does. No voice has ever sounded better or meant more to me. She sounds like Kitty Wells. :-)

    Funny how music winds it way through our lives and becomes part of the fabric of who we are. Precious memories, indeed.

    Thanks for the remembrance spark and the warm fuzzy. It was needed.

  12. Joe aka AmberAddictNovember 9, 2009 at 3:08 PM

    A lovely story with nice message about equality!

  13. I just discovered your blog yesterday, Amber. This is a beautiful post. I love "This Land," too--but be sure to learn all the verses :)

  14. I have almost the same story. Dad singing folk songs through my youth. I have the same reaction to this song: pride in the land of my birth, and the intense desire to make it exactly the way Arlo said it: "for you and me." the inclusiveness of that lyric is what makes me proud. I have to get my guitar right this minute...

  15. I can't say I rememeber my dad being the singing type when I was a kid. However when I hear the melodies of my childhood I melt into fond reminiscence of my days in elementary school and the kindhearted men and women who taught me my ABCs and whose voices I've yet to forget.

  16. What a great list of songs -- they bring back a lot of memories for me as well, including my father singing some of them.

  17. It was great seeing Pete sing the whole song (even including "those" verses) at inauguration! Funny that you posted this yesterday, since I just got home from Mary Travers' memorial and got a chance to say hello to Pete. I'm pretty sure he didn't remember me, but he knew my parents well. It was a beautiful evening and at one point, while Tom Paxton was singing his classic "The Last Thing On MY Mind" (which P,P & M sang as well) I caught sight of Pete watching like a proud papa, which in a way, he is!

    I'll post a full wrap tomorrow, if I can!

  18. Thank you for sharing some of your childhood memories and the meaning behind them.

    Love and hugs,

    A x

  19. Maybe it was a protest,I ebleive that knowing what I do of Woody, but how can that song be called angry? As so often happens, people who think they're enemies can so often say the same thing in different ways.

    Your dad's voice sounds interesting. (I'm almost countertenor myself, on *some* songs, others I'm almost true bass, but don't do any of them especially great.)

    And I cheer your sentiment, despite our partisan differences. That's what it *should* mean to live in a country based on ideas rather a tribe.

    "Blinded by the ashes,
    That our love left behind."

  20. Lovely tribute to your dad; personally I never really regretted my own family not being terribly musical(trust me on this one), but the power and importance of folk music cannot be ignored. I wasn't old enough to really appreciate the '60s and the somewhat-parallel evolution of folk and rock; both should have developed as cultural superpowers. But folk will probably outlive rock in the long, long term...

  21. I have a very similar memory, except my dad would sing "The Marvelous Little Toy" by Peter, Paul & this day I can't hear it without a tear coming to my eye and the years melting to scent, music is the most evocative of memory there is...OK getting goosebumps typing this...I think I'll go call my dad

  22. That made me get a little choked up! It reminded me of my childhood. One of my earlist memories is my Dad picking and singing 'The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia' on his guitar, honestly. Such a touching post. Keep 'em coming Amber!

  23. My dad had Tom Dooley is his collection, too. Mom was the "Take Me Home, Country Roads" fanatic in the family. I have the "Norwegian Wood" and "City of New Orleans" covered in my stash of scratchy vinyl.

    I’ve had numerous musical obsessions over the years (none handed down or shared by my parents), but when I grow weary of those, I always return to one of the wonders of the world, Bob Dylan, who as luck would have it, has an appreciation of Woody Guthrie, unlike Glenn Beck, who doesn't.

    I’m not a father, but if I was a singing, guitar playing dad, my kids would grow up hearing stuff like “Chimes of Freedom”.

    Now, if it was St. Patrick's Day, I'd probably drive them crazy with The Pogues. I mean, as long as they're living under my roof...

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