A Little Touch of Woody in the Night


Richard Hershberger

Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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46 Responses

  1. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I think God Bless America was the post-9/11 compromise between those who wanted to sing This Is Your Land and Battle Hymn of the Republic.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Will Truman says:

      I thought we all agreed that the Ray Charles version of America was the anthem of the future.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman says:

      My first thought was surely not the Battle Hymn of the Republic. That was an unabashedly Union song. But looking into it, I see that it was performed at the state funerals of both Nixon and Reagan (and, a bit oddly, Winston Churchill). So the Republican Party seems to regard it has having been rehabilitated from its unsavory origins. It probably helps that the politics are left implicit.

      I rather like it, myself. Not its theology. That is pretty awful. But it is a real barn burner of a poem, and setting it to John Brown’s Body was inspired.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

      Interestingly Woody Guthrie wrote This Land is Your Land in response to God Bless America or America the Beautiful.

      I’d rather sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic or the Battle Cry for Freedom over God Bless America.Report

      • Really? I would think Battle Hymn would be at the bottom of your list.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

          God Bless America is pure treacle. I consider the Battle Hymn of the Republic to be one of the most anti-Confederate songs written in history. The Christian imagery is too much but the lyrics are clear about what a curse and evil slavery is.Report

          • Except that all of the imagery is sufficiently vague that it ultimately boils down to Going To War Against Evil In The Name of God and the Good.

            I mean, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a fantastic song. Which is one of the things that makes it so unsettling. It can make an atheist want to go to war in the name of God.

            I agree with your assessment of GBA. It’s very weak sauce, as such compromises usually are.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

              As “Christ has died to men make holy, let us die to make men free” is not vague imagery. There are other very specific references to Jesus in the Battle Hymn of the Republic.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

                The Jesus stuff is very explicit. The slavery stuff less so. Freedom can be applied to any number of concepts, including Operation Iraqi.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

                Using an explicit Christian song as the theme song for our response to the Taliban and Iraq II would have gone over very well. (Sarcasm). Bush might not have made the best decisions from my point of view but at least he wasn’t this dumb.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

                He might not have been, but that song had a resurgence after 9/11 for a reason. It spoke to a time, and not a liberal-friendly one. It was the anthem taken up by the right in the South as we were going to war against a couple Muslim nations.

                Owing in part that the lyrics were not at all limited to the Union or abolitionist cause.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:


                “He is trampling out the vintage
                Where the grapes of wrath are stored
                He has loosed the fateful lightening
                Of His terrible swift sword
                His truth is marching on”

                “I have read a fiery gospel
                Writ in burnish’d rows of steel
                As ye deal with my condemners
                So with you my grace shall deal
                Let the hero, born of woman
                Crush the serpent with his heel
                Since God is marching on”

                This is pure abolition! The Civil War was the price the United States needed to pay for having slavery.Report

              • If somebody had no knowledge of the song’s history or origins, would they be able to place it specifically as a Union anthem for the Civil War?

                I’m not saying that it wasn’t written about the Civil War. I’m saying that it transcends that origin into a song of war embraced by God against unholy enemies of same.Report

              • Avatar Stella B in reply to LeeEsq says:

                “Down with the traitors and up with the stars” seems pretty explicit, too.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Eh? The only reference to slavery I see is the line “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,” and even that we only know to be about slavery from the historical context.Report

            • Yes, but that line is the thesis of the entire song.

              Personally, I appreciate Mark Twain’s revision of the song, which is an accurate description of most or all of the wars after the American Civil War that were purportedly fought “for freedom”.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod in reply to KatherineMW says:

                Not sure I’d agree it’s the “thesis,” though it may arguably be implicitly the thesis, if you accept that the eradication of slavery was logically required by or implicit within the Declaration and Constitution, or the American Idea.

                Interestingly, there is in fact one direct reference to the concept of slavery, in the final verse from the original manuscript, but not included in the published version:

                He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
                He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
                So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
                Our God is marching on.

                Glory, glory, hallelujah!
                Glory, glory, hallelujah!
                Glory, glory, hallelujah.
                Our God is marching on.

                …which almost comes across as bizarre, and I think certainly as esoteric and forced, compared to the rest – but yet it may be significant…


        • Avatar Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

          I like it too, it’s a stately driven song, full of purpose and pride.
          (now, if only they’d stop singing the Star Spangled Banner as a dirge! — it’s supposed to be a fast, mirthful piece.)Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Semi-OT but in the 1990s. Billy Bragg and Wilco released a great album of previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie songs called Mermaid Avenue. My favorites are Ingrid Bergman and Hesitating Beauty.Report

  3. Avatar Kim says:

    Pittsburgh still does Take Me Out to the Ballgame, most days of the week.Report

  4. Avatar Crprod says:

    Both of us vote for the conservative retention of Take Me Out to the Ballgame although This Land Is Your Land is very good. Watching the Red Sox game yesterday, we realized that all the rituals of the Star Spangled Banner, such as facing the flag with cap over heart, have been transferred to God Bless America.Report

  5. Avatar Patrick says:


  6. Avatar Glyph says:

    “cockles of my heart (whatever they are) were warmed”

    Nothing like hot cockles…


  7. Richard probably knows this, but Take Me Out to the Ball Game was written by two people who had never seen a game. It’s as if Barry Manilow had written some gangtsa rap.Report

  8. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    I check out CDs from the kid’s section of the library every week or two without checking what’s on them. Last week happened to have a rendition of “This Land Is Your Land”. I couldn’t help but feel vaguely insecure about it.

    Also, I have to drop these here:


  9. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Since the purpose of the seventh inning stretch is to stretch and the song needs to be more Americana, may I suggest Simple Gifts. It was meant to be a dancing song, so the audience can do some choreographed movements to it.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I’m not sure if they still do this, but at the minor league Frederick (Md.) Keys they would encourage the fans to take out their car keys and shake them. I I think this was sponsored by a car dealership. The club comes by the name semi-honestly. Francis Scott Key is buried across the street from the ballpark. But still, that is pretty cheesy.Report

  10. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Isn’t the big problem with “This Land is Your Land” is that it is liberal fas…, I mean communist.Report

  11. Avatar InMD says:

    The normal 7th inning stretch song at Camden Yards is Thank God I’m a Country Boy (preceded by take me out to the ball game for most games). Since 9/11 it has been preceded by God Bless America for Sunday games.

    Personally I could do without the God Bless America stuff. I struggle to see it as anything but a weird self-imposed propaganda. It reminds me of the episode in Catch-22 where everyone has to sign loyalty oaths to get their meals at the mess hall.Report

  12. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    You know, it’s weird. I learned the “words offset” trick, but only one note, not two. I’m sure that I’m not the only person who can do this, since there’s the guy who taught me for sure.Report

  13. Avatar Kolohe says:

    God Bless America should only be sung by Kate Smith in Philadelphia at the Spectrum, but absent that rule, at least its better than the Lee Greenwood renaissance that also happened in the fall of 2001 and, thankfully, by now seems to have abated.

    Still, it should be noted that the playing the (US) National Anthem before nearly every sporting event in the US only became a permanent fixture thanks to the jingoist militarism brought on by WW2, never going to mothballs like most of the ships and tanks.Report