ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Talking Seventh Inning Blues.
A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor. Today’s July 4 rewind was originally published in November, 2010, and is dedicated to the Floyd County Health Department.
“‘God Bless America’ rings a false note now, as it did when the song was first written (by Irving Berlin, 1939). Woody Guthrie, wrote the song ‘This Land is Your Land’ in 1940 after hearing Kate Smith sing ‘God Bless America’ one too many times.” — Democratic Wings
For a baseball fan, the only patriotic song that really matters is “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” for decades a staple of the seventh-inning stretch at ballparks large and small, from California to the New York island.
Unfortunately, the purloining of this sacred tradition commenced shortly after 9-11, reaching a predictable nadir during the annual playoffs and World Series, which prompted an exciting, new activity in my heretical household: Scrambling to be first to thumb the mute button, thus sparing us yet another performance of “God Bless America.”
I’ve nothing against the songwriter Irving Berlin, whose family escaped pogroms in Tsarist Russia by immigrating to America. It’s just that in appealing to what Berlin perceived as the common American’s simple love of country, he was prone to overt chest-thumping and mawkish sentimentality, neither of which suits my cosmopolitan internationalism.
Why can’t we sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the game, and save the Pat Robertson Bible College advertisement for his cable empire, where it belongs?
Conversely, if we must have a 7th-inning tune other than the historically correct one, why not sing Woody Guthrie’s far superior response, “This Land Is Your Land”?
It is sublimely ecumenical, addressing the natural and human wonders of America without resorting to the divisiveness of those many supernaturals. I suppose the drawback is that when it comes to the imperative of emotional manipulation required by moneyed corporate capitalists, Guthrie’s work isn’t as misty-eyed as Berlin’s schmaltzy paean to blind acceptance.
Better yet, we might all wear “This Machine Kills Fascists” t-shirts whilst happily harmonizing from the bleacher seats.
It is through Guthrie’s legacy that the phrase has become immortalized. For what seems like years, my company has used “These Machines Kill Fascists” as our motto, alongside a graphic of brewing vessels, and I never tire of telling the story of its origin.
Guthrie (1912-1967), the iconic American folksinger, was born in Oklahoma and came of age during the twin pre-WWII crises of national economic collapse (the Great Depression) and regional environmental catastrophe (the Dust Bowl).
Musically inclined from childhood, Guthrie followed the westward drift in pursuit of work, eventually landing in California alongside numerous other Okies. In doing so, he played a living, breathing part in novelist John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” and as a direct result of what Guthrie experienced during these troubled times in America, his political views evolved in progressive, leftist directions.
Many of Guthrie’s subsequent songs – he wrote thousands – chronicled the hardships of ordinary people, expressing empathy for their lot and support for what he saw as curatives: Worker rights, unionizing, and racial and gender equality. Guthrie eschewed the feel-good and the flag-waving, both so often deployed to mask deprivation and trivialize injustice. His annoyance with “God Bless America” spoke to this feeling.
For all of Guthrie’s leftist tendencies, and in stark contrast with the way that today’s right-wingers typically malign them, Guthrie remained a staunch patriot as well as a firm, committed believer in the potential of America, albeit a more idealistic and hopeful vision of the American experiment, one not defined entirely by wealth and privilege. The Second World War put his beliefs to the test, and he responded admirably.
It is instructive to remember that during World War II, the United States (a democracy — of sorts) aligned with a hereditary monarchy (Great Britain) and the USSR’s Communist gulag against the military aggression of Germany, Italy and Japan. Such was the greater threat perceived in fascism.
Guthrie viewed his music as an integral part of the war effort, and so he scrawled “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his acoustic guitar, meaning that music and ideas were as much weapons against fascism as guns and bullets. Guthrie enlisted in the Merchant Marine, and whenever performing, he used a machine that he considered vital in killing fascists.
The same phrase was written on machinery in factories throughout the United States, as those millions of people in America’s industrial work force made a similar point: The person operating the machine that makes the supplies used to defeat fascism are helping to kill fascists, too.
With “These Machines Kill Fascists,” my company honors Guthrie. As machines, the brew kettles, mash tuns and fermenters we use to make craft beer are our weapons against fascism in the beer world, where there are aggressive multi-national industrial brewers such as AB-InBev (as when shopping at Wal-Mart, your Bud money goes overseas, folks), and smaller, local, anti-fascist entities like us.
One of them better symbolizes Guthrie’s view of the American Dream.
If one cares to read more into it, interpretation surely is a privilege whenever listening to song lyrics. Speaking personally, my leftist proclivities are well documented, although at the same time, while historical accuracy demands that we use the phrase as originally rendered, I’d probably prefer killing “fascism” rather than “fascists.” Beyond that, I remain convinced that daily craft beer production indeed kills fascists.
Drinking some of it never hurts, either.
“Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.”