Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Jack Would Approve: Radio Nederlands Series on Protest Songs

One of the brief uncomfortable moments at Monday night's vigil at the foot of Mount Royal in memory of Jack Layton was the interminable version of "This Land Is Your Land" by a group of well-intentioned Anglophone musicians. The song's a good one, but even though they sang the Canadian version (not "from California to New York islands" but "from Bonavista to Vancouver Island") I wondered about the choice. It was written by folk music legend Woodie Guthrie, whom I revere, but, damn it, he was American. In addition, the group didn't have a song in French prepared and it was up to a few stalwarts Monday night to start a rendition of "C'est à ton tour" by Gilles Vigneault (also called "Gens du Pays.)"

Perhaps the Guthrie song was one of Layton's favourites, and that was the reason for the choice. I don't know. But I'm pretty sure he'd have loved a series on protest songs by Radio Nederlands which I just came across. Here's the link to the part about Brazilian protest music, featuring my hero Chico Buarque.

1 comment:

Michael Black said...

But while Woody wrote the song, he didn't write the Canada-specific lyrics. That was done by The Travellers, a Canadian folk group akin to The Kingston Trio, and recording about the same time.

A better song might have been The Travellers "Something to Sing About" (well they recorded it, Oscar Brand wrote it) that is quite similar in form to Woody's song, yet by starting from scratch works better than Woody's song with Canadian geography added. It was even used as the theme for a show on the CBC in the sixties.

Chances are good they didn't know better. It's difficult to find someone who doesn't know "Imagine", but chances are good you won't find someone who knows a Phil Ochs song. There often isn't a lot of depth to the left (which of course is more a general issue than about the left). At the very least, even if the singers knew more songs, the crowd likely wouldn't, so they couldn't sing along.

Of course, none of it really matters, since we virtually never hear the missing lyrics from "This Land is Your Land", the one about the trespassing sign, which Woody himself was worried would be forgotten so he made a point of teaching it to Arlo. As the song becomes mainstream, it wouldn't want those lyrics.