Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bruce Springsteen: This Land Is Your Land

Live at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA, on September 30, 1985 as part of the "Born in the USA" tour. Woody Gutherie wrote the lyrics to "This Land is Your Land," in 1940, to an existing melody, doing so as a response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." The U.S. Library of Congress added it, in 2002, to the National Recording Registry.

When I was much younger, so much younger than today, in my early 20s, I saw Bruce Springsteen at a concert in Montreal that lasted almost three hours. Springteen gives his all to the fans and you get your money's worth. He is also a performer with a social conscience, using his fame to speak out on issues that are important to average Americans, his home base.

Now, I am a Canadian, not an American, but I have always enjoyed Springsteen's music, since it has always offered, despite its sometimes grim message, hope and dreams. His personal story fits that tradition of making it in America despite the odds against it.

In this clip, from 1985, Springsteen speaks about jobs and the lack of them. Jobs and employment are always an important issue, as it ought to be. One of the fundamental roles of the government is to ensure that people are working citizens and paying their fair share of taxes. President Obama made a speech on the American Job Act, a package worth nearly $450 billion, a  a few days ago before a joint-session of Congress. Let's hope that it gets more people back to work, which would help heal the wounds of a deeply divided nation

That would be a moral victory of sorts, on the tenth the anniversary of the tragic event of September 11th, when many lost their lives, needlessly may I add, to an act of terrorism. And the United States has not been the same, or for that matter Canada, England, France, Germany and the rest of the world. We are still seeing the effects of  that day, sometimes in subtle forms.

The attack was not only a direct assault against America in particular but against liberal democracy, freedom and humanity in general. There can be no moral justification for the heartless cold-blooded attack. Only individuals imbued with a totalitarian anti-human worldview would find ways, language, to justify murder. The vast majority of us can't.  It's a form of sophistry intended to deceive. Ideologies that operate on redemption through revolution or murder as a necessary means to gain reward for a better life in another world (after-life) are contrary to the ideals of democracy, individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Today and in the next week, many stories, articles and tributes will be written and published in various forms—some eloquent, some hard, some ideological, some poetic.  What I take way from the events of ten years ago is the importance and value of democracy, freedom, individual dignity and applying the laws of the land equally to all persons. It's true that I worry about democracy in America, albeit less so today than a few years ago, and I have written as much in this medium.

Even so, I worry because I consider myself a friend of America and democracy is by nature a fragile institution. If we wish to maintain these values, we have to fight so to speak to ensure that they are maintained. The fight is equally important in words and actions, namely, that we live by the values of liberal democracy. Otherwise, the words lose their luster, their meaning, and we are all poorer for it.

We must not act in opposition to the values that we cherish. As Mr. Springsteen said in plain words, "Countries like people—it's easy to let the best of you slip away."

This Land is Your Land 
By Woody Gutherie
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 was made for you and me.
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.
I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.
When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land 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?
Chorus: 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 was made for you and me.
There are also many other national versions of the song, including a Canadian one made popularized by Canadian folk music group The Travellers in 1955:
This land is your land, This land is my land,
From Bonavista, to Vancouver Island
From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters,
This land was made for you and me.
I roamed and I rambled,
And I followed my footsteps
To the fir-clad forests
Of our mighty mountains
And all around me
A voice was calling,
This land was made for you and me.
I remember singing it in elementary (or primary) school in the 1960s in different times, when I was a young boy. Idealistic. Hopeful. I remain cautiously hopeful. The melody has always stuck in my head.

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