[Editor’s Note: American Tunes is a series of posts dedicated to songs that address America’s social and political challenges. For more information on the series, click here.]
On Tuesday, The Spacebomb Sound hosted a really candid and informative roundtable on race that aired on Red Bull Music Academy Radio. Tiffany Jana, Reggie Pace, Kelli Strawbridge, Devonne Harris, Cameron Ralston, and Matthew E. White participated, and while I’m not sure if audio is available to be replayed, RBMA just posted a fairly extensive transcript of the discussion. I hope you’ll read it and share — read to absorb the ideas and experiences that were relayed on Tuesday, and share to keep the momentum going so honest, substantive discussions like this one keep happening all over the country.
One song they played during the show was Sharon Jones’ version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” I hadn’t heard her version until recently, but I’ve grown very attached to it in that short time. It’s amazing how much gravity her voice adds. Growing up, I didn’t realize how political the song was — depending on which verses people choose to include, it can still seem apolitical and/or downright hypocritical — but I had a conversion experience last year when Dave Rawlings Machine closed their November show at The National with it. The verse about the signs and private property and how signs say nothing on the back… I don’t know whether I hadn’t heard that verse before or if I just wasn’t listening intently, but when Dave Rawlings sang it, it felt powerfully subversive. Got goosebumps and everything.
Here’s how Jones sings it:
As I was walking, they tried to stop me
They put up a sign that said “private property”
On the back side, it said nothing
That side was made for you and me