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The Curse of the Guthries, by Murray Kempton

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The genius of our politics is the art of distracting the resentments of a cheated middle class and letting them fall upon a worse-cheated lower class. And so we have the revolution of Woody Guthrie's dream: the Okies and their sons and daughters have elected a one-time California labor agitator president of the United States. This triumphant populist tribune is, of course, Mr. Reagan.

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Woodie Gutherie (undated), by Wikipedia


Woody Guthrie had composed "This Land Is Your Land" as a bitter parody of "God Bless America." It had originally closed with the stanza:

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the Relief office I saw my people
As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if
God blessed America for me.

These words and like notes of alienation were excised from "This Land Is Your Land" when it was smoothed into the affirmative expression that soothes us today. Guthrie accepted the amendment, but the pain of the sacrifice lingered so long that, in the early 1960s, when he was near dying, he took his son, Arlo, into the backyard and taught him the old verses, because, Klein tells us, "he was afraid that if Arlo didn't learn them, they'd be forgotten."


Click here to read Kempton's entire article at the New York Review of Books.

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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)
 
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