THE BLOG
09/23/2007 03:54 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Two Musical Visions of America

Yesterday's Blue America candidate was Pennsylvania's progressive Democrat Sam Bennett of Allentown. The night before I asked her to guest host the Late Night Music Club at Crooks & Liars. Her selection was "This Land Is Our Land" and although her manager suggested we use the updated and popular Bruce Springsteen version, which Sam also likes, she reiterated to me that it was Woody Guthrie's original that makes her spine tingle.

Listen:

What Sam didn't get into was the fact that Guthrie wrote what would turn out to be one of America's most beloved and admired folk songs as an antidote to the sappy Irving Berlin hit "God Bless America." In 1940 Guthrie was less than delighted to hear Kate Smith belting the complacent "God Bless America" out over the radio every time he turned one on. He took the melody of an old Baptist hymn, "When the World's On Fire" (recorded by the Carter Family in 1930) and wound up recording it in 1944. The lyrics he used when he sang it live were often far more political than the lyrics on the various recordings he-- and others-- did of it.

I bring it up again today because Steve Benen at Talking Points Memo has a somewhat related story about a bunch of religionist wingnuts who have also rewritten "God Bless America," but from a very different perspective than Guthrie. The new right-wing version was performed at a GOP HateFest that was avoided by frontrunners Giuliani, McCain, Frederick of Hollywood and Romney but attended by several of the other pathetic pygmies™ who "cozied up to luminaries such as Phyllis Schlafly, Paul Weyrich, and Don Wildmon."

There were plenty of bizarre questions and answers, but one of the elements of the debate that stood out for me was, oddly enough, the song that got things started. Event organizers invited the Church of God Choir, from Springfield, Ohio, to sing "God Bless America"-- except the lyrics were rewritten. Instead of a song about "the land that I love," and "home sweet home," this version condemns the country, saying we've all turned against God, and that He won't bless us. It was a big hit among the conservative Republicans in the room.

Listen to the sound of right-wing religionist hatred for our country:

Here are the lyrics of the right-wing version:

Why should God bless America?
She's forgotten he exists
And has turned her back
On everything that made her what she is
Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sin and heal our land
The courts ruled prayer out of our schools
In June of '62
Told the children "you are your own God now
So you can make the rules"
O say can you see what that choice
Has cost us to this day
America, one nation under God, has gone astray
Why should God bless America?
Shes's forgotten he exists
And has turned her back on everything
That made her what she is
Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sins and heal our land
In '73 the Courts said we
Could take the unborn lives
The choice is yours don't worry now
It's not a wrong, it's your right
But just because they made it law
Does not change God's command
The most that we can hope for is
God's mercy on our land
Why should God bless America?
She's forgotten he exists
And has turned her back on everything
That made her what she is
Why should God stand beside her
Through the night with the light from his hand?
God have mercy on America
Forgive her sins and heal our land
(Reading from 2nd Chronicles 7:14) If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land
God have mercy on America forgive her sins and heal our land

And just for the sake of comparison, here's Woody's version which is so admired by non-rightists:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land is made for you and me.
As I go walking this ribbon of highway
I see above me the endless skyway
And all around me the wind keeps saying:
This land is made for you and me.
I roam and I ramble and I follow my footsteps
Till I come to the sands of her mineral desert
The mist is lifting and the voice is saying:
This land is made for you and me.
Where the wind is blowing I go a strolling
The wheat field waving and the dust a rolling
The fog is lifting and the wind is saying:
This land is made for you and me.
Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking my freedom highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land is 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?
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.