Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Under the Influence of a Song

As a kid, I didn’t know who wrote " This land is your land, this land is my land." I only knew it as a summer camp song, one of my favorites. I recently learned that Woody Guthrie wrote it, and he wrote this strong but gentle song as a response to Kate Smith’s version of God Bless America. My source for this information called her singing bombastic, and to avoid plagiarism, I tried to find another word for her militaristic style, but none of the choices the thesaurus gave me was quite right, so I will stick with bombastic. Kate’s patriotic rendition of that song was part of my childhood, too.

I was reminded of Guthrie’s famous song last night at a concert where the folk group from the 1960’s, The Highwaymen, performed here in Kenosha. They sang the song, along with some of their other hits (Michael, Row the Boat Ashore, Cottonfields and the one I was courted to – Gypsy Rover).

Although folk music was popular in the 60’s, my husband introduced me to much more of it than just what hit the airwaves. It was because of him – and Pete Seeger, and many others – that I learned about the influence of music on politics and culture and about the strong stories told through folk music.

Perhaps because of last night’s concert, or perhaps because I just wrote about invasive species and VHS, I paid special attention to a small blurb in this morning’s newspaper about “musical messages” that have been written about invasive species. Weird connection, right, but why not? If we can sing about war, labor unions, and bad government, why can’t we sing about zebra mussels and their war on our waters?

So check this out. You can listen to songs called “One Bait, One Lake” and “The Ballad of Invasive Species” and others, as well as get more information, at this University of Wisconsin Extension website. It’s a great resource and will link you to others as well.

If music can make a difference, and I think it can, invasive species beware. You are about to be attacked by a strumming guitar and well-chosen words.

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