I posted this on my Star Tribune blog recently:
I just watched a clip from the presidential inauguration in which Pete Seeger leads that huge crowd of people in a call-and-response version of Woodie Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." It filled me with such joy to see his eyes gleaming as he intoned the less-familiar verses, the ones about private property, the relief office, people standing hungry, the people "wondering if this land's still made for you and me."
Seeger unearthed the forgotten verses, the ones which not only celebrate our country's beauty and its democratic ideals, but which challenge our country to do better.
One thing that really gratified me about that moment of the inauguration was that a song could once again have such a powerful presence at a public ceremony. Yes, it was fun hearing Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" at Bill Clinton's victory celebration, but I have to admit I found it a bit vapid. I found myself wishing for a song which could hold up its end of the bargain.
I remember reading an interview with Neil Young about a year ago. He said, "I think that the time when music could change the world is past. I think it would be very naive to think that in this day and age."
I'm not sure that "This Land is Your Land" did it quickly, but I am damn sure that it has slowly and inexorably changed the world we live in, and for the better. And if will.i.am's "Yes We Can" didn't help to bring change to our country, then maybe Neil Young is right. But I think it did. Even now, I think other songs are being written and have been written which will change the world yet again, and for the better.
If there's a new "This Land is Your Land" out there, well, I hate to say it, but that song may have to wait sixty or seventy years to be played at a Presidential inauguration. That's fine; it's a mighty big honor for a song and, anyway, a song that great will have the patience to wait.