When Woody Guthrie submitted “This Land Is Your Land” for copyright in 1940, he wrote on the manuscript, ““This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”
I hope he wouldn’t mind if others just . . . I don’t know . . . added to it. After all, rearranging and adapting songs has always been in the best folk music tradition. And, that’s what I did, wrote a couple of additional verses.
But before I get to them, whoever’s reading this ought to know that the song that’s been called “A love song to America,” was just a bit subversive. In fact, Woody penned the piece as a response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” a song for which he had a decided distaste.
Two of the original verses that are usually omitted from school-house songbooks, because of their distinctly political tenors, are:
As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
And on the sign there, It said “no trespassing.”
But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing!
That side was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?
It is in the spirit of “This Land Is Your Land” that I offer three verses of my own:
On lines like cattle, our hopes unheeded,
We jobless waited, for the jobs we needed;
Wall Street was laughing, and I had to wonder:
Is this land still made for you and me?
All Wall Street’s power and wealth can’t stop me.
Not its lawsuits threatening; nor its jail cells waiting.
I’ll sing my message—to whoever’s listening, ‘cause
I can still sing for you and me!
No Plutocrat can purloin my freedom.
I’ve the Bill of Rights and The Constitution.
So, now lets rise up—and stand together. Remind them . . .
This land was made for you and me!
Maybe it isn’t Woody, but I’d like to think he would’ve approved.