Saturday, April 18, 2015

"This Land is Your Land." (Harmonica cover by Paul.)

Freedom's just a 4-letter word: doit.  A view of the US from the other side of the no-trespassing signs: the highway.  It was either their way or the highway, so we chose the highway.

The song, the melody played here, is sort of by Woodrow Wilson Guthrie. Woody used an ancient lilt, preserved in public domain folk hymns.  What Woody was trying to do is get out a quick rebuttle to the popular song of the day "God Bless America", a country in which he, on the road, saw a rampant victimization of the poor by the rich.  It is somewhat similar in message to the folk hymn from which the music idea was borrowed, "Whatcha Gonna do When the World's on Fire?".  So the team of Woody and the hymn composer worked out so well that the song became famous.

Photos in this slide-show: Across the USA in a Ryder  truck rented from Budget; 2003, from New Hampshire to California.  The photos were by Jen Hall, since I was doing the driving with one bad leg at the time, going through New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and then California.

Woody sez (parts of 3 quotes that go together): "This is YOUR world...and if it knocks you for a dozen loops... don't let nothin' get you plumb down." Woody was tired of hypocrisy 5 miles wide and 2 inches deep.  He would write songs on any scrap of paper he could get ahold of, easily five or ten or more a day.  I've done that, too.  Sometimes to be able to perform something he wrote on the spot, he borrowed" the music from old hymns or public domain folk melodies as he did with other songs like "I Ain't Got No Home" from This World is not My Home" and "Union Maid" from "Pretty Little Black Bird".

But, heck, people; those songs were "borrowed", too!  They were borrowed and borrowed and borrowed for thousands of years.  That's why so many bluegrass lilts sound as if from bag pipes of medieval times.  That's the trouble with modern music.  Each genre is the variations on the same "winner" melody.  Just varied enough to squeak past the copyright protections.  So unwittingly, people are dying of boredom!  Give the man some credit.   He was a creative genius much like the ancient Greek poets.

It's like saying Henry the eighth wrote Greensleeves.  Oh yeah, and where are the other couple of hundred songs he wrote?   Anybody THAT good would have come up with something else.  Like David.  He was a shepherd on a hill with a homemade harp.  Some of these melodies may have been borrowed from him!

Classical composers used to do that all the time; take trips to the country to borrow stuff from ancient, handed-down melodies as well as new creations of the common folk.  That's how it works.  It's a TEAM effort.  Probably the first melodies were "borrowed" from the birds!  Give me a break.  I used "Greensleves" for my song "Anger" and "House of the Rising Sun" for The Ballad of the Moby Dick".  Sometimes you don't have time to cultivate a melody and remember it, so you borrow from the traditional, public domain.  Of course, my songs were variations on those melodic themes, unique in themselves.

Now, you can easily come up with original music as simply as speaking.  It's just nobody does, hardly, except me and a few others as it has been done over the ages.  I can do that since it's no big deal to do it. It's a lot easier now with digital recording.  My You Tube video "Bermuda Triangle Cat" has a variation of a my own melody I thought up over 40 years ago but  mostly was improvised on the spot with my C major harmonica as I shot the video.  It's just that very few people are interested in original songs; they want only popular stuff.  The hymn "When the World's on fire was made famous in the early 20th century by the Carter Family singers.

So here's a harmonica improv on Woody's "This Land...  I first heard this in the 60's when a local television station played it every night when it signed off the air (which they used to do in the old days).

And here's a message from Woody from the other world: He showed me in a dream he likes songs "with the eagle in them..."   Revelation of mystery.  Finding out what's really going on.  Getting past illusions of ownership.

They can't get him this time.  He's over there now in that big union in the sky.

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