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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Americana: As Told by Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young


"This Land Is Your Land" (Woody Guthrie cover)
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band w/
Arcade Fire, Tom Morello, Alejandro Escovedo, and more.
The Moody Theater, Austin, TX - SXSW 2012 - March 15, 2012


Quite a bit of commentary on the upcoming album Americana by Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Already. And release not set until June.

So could folks be most excited about the first full album recording by Neil Young & Crazy Horse in about 10 years?

Of course not.

Which reminds us of 2006 when Bruce Springsteen released We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. On The Seeger Sessions, Springsteen covers songs by "Americana folk music" icon Pete Seeger.

Bruce Springsteen - We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions


Here's how blog critic and author of the upcoming Neil Young FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Iconic and Mercurial Rocker Glen Boyd put it at the time (The Seeger Sessions? Say It Aint So Bruce - Blogcritics Music):
So The Seeger Sessions is finally out.

The album that has been front and center in the hearts and minds of Bruce Springsteen fans ever since it was first announced last February was finally released Tuesday. The debate among both fans and critics about this record has been an often intense one in the days between that announcement and yesterday's release.

Boyd went on to site a few grumblings such as not putting the E St. Band to its best use and calling it "something of a vanity project for Bruce... like the sort of thing Elvis Costello did with the Brodsky Quartet."

Since the time of the earliest rumblings of a new album of Bruce "Americana folk music" covers in 2006, critic Boyd and most of the Bruce fan naysayers quickly came around on the The Seeger Sessions and recognized the boldness and exuberant recklessness of Bruce's interpretations of Pete Seeger's rebel folk.

And so here we are.

In the video above with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (and many, many others) covering Woody Guthrie's Americana classic "This Land Is Your Land" at SXSW 2012 Festival, we see a modern day American icon interpret what really was -- and still is -- a radical protest song. Guthrie saw an America in the crisis of the 1930's Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression, where the wealthy ruling elite could care less about the millions of starving, suffering poor folks.


Americana by Neil Young & Crazy Horse


Now along comes the soon to be released album by Neil Young & Crazy Horse of "Americana folk music" titled -- appropriately enough -- Americana.

Like Bruce above, Neil Young's newest album will also cover Woody Guthrie's Americana classic "This Land Is Your Land" . From the liner notes for Americana by Neil Young & Crazy Horse:
This Land Is Your Land

This folk song was written by Woody Guthrie in the 1940s to a pre-existing melody as a response to “God Bless America” which Guthrie was tired of hearing. The lyrics Guthrie sang varied over time, but the lyrics sung in the Americana version were in the original manuscript of the song.

As noted in the liner notes, "This Land Is Your Land" was written in response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" -- but not necessarily just because he was "tired of hearing" -- but more due to the hypocrisy of the ruling wealthy elites.

As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
And on the sign there, It said "no trespassing." [In another version, the sign reads "Private Property"]
But on the other side, it didn't say nothing!
That side was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?


So far, so good, right? What could go wrong?

Well, it would seem in the eyes and ears of some Neil Young fans, what Neil is about to embark on is a big misguided desecration -- sort of like Bruce Springsteen with Seeger Sessions.

Here's how some of the fan commentary on the upcoming album Americana is going. Questions of authenticity, legitimacy, historical accuracy, political tone-deafness and unspoken social ramifications, and so on.

All subjects which should be up for debate.

And maybe that's why Bruce covered Pete and Neil is covering many great, classic "Americana folk music" songs? To spark a big, giant debate on where Americana is coming from and going? What could be more healthy and apropos?

So -- in conclusion -- just as critic Glen Boyd went out on a limb and pre-judged Springsteen's Seeger Sessions and turned out to be happily mistaken, we'll go out out on a limb and pre-judge Neil Young's Americana. Might Americana be the album Neil wished he released in 2006 instead of Living With War?

We can only imagine Neil and The Horse stompin' thru Woody's Americana classic "This Land Is Your Land" and totally -- yet respectfully -- shreddin' it.

We await the June 5 release... eagerly.

In the meantime, a happy 100th birthday to Oklahoma's favorite son, Woody!


Woody Guthrie - "This Land Is Your Land"

ps - What Would Woody Do? (Hint: Occupy the Music)

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22 Comments:

At 3/28/2012 07:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I've said before, my only problem with this from looking at the track list, is the inclusion of God Save The Queen. I'm sure the rest of the album will be great and I'm looking forward to hearing it, but having 'This Land Is Your Land' which as you say was written about "hypocrisy of the ruling wealthy elites." and then doing GSTQ which CELEBRATES the ruling wealthy elites....just doesn't make sense to me. It's hypocrisy in itself!

So basically a lot of the album seems to be about struggle, hardships, and freedom yet at the end of the day we're all supposed to bow down to our masters in the elite and let them "reign over us"?

-Tim

 
At 3/28/2012 08:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What ties these songs together is the fact that while they may represent an America that may no longer exist, the emotions and scenarios behind these songs still resonate with what’s going on in the country today with equal, if not greater impact nearly 200 years later. The lyrics reflect the same concerns and are still remarkably meaningful to a society going through economic and cultural upheaval, especially during an election year. They are just as poignant and powerful today as the day they were written."

 
At 3/28/2012 08:32:00 AM, Blogger BecauseSoundMatters said...

I don't know, Tim. First of all let me say I am super curious about Neil's thoughts on that song.

According to my knowledge the USA does not have a queen. What about that? We never said George W Bush was the queen of Americana. Did we?

I have the feeling that this album not only represents an America that may no longer exist. By writing his book Waging Heavy Peace old Neil had to go through his whole life again for the second time. Shortly after the Archives Vol. 1 did shake his memory together.
He remembered the Squires playing some of these songs like Stephen did. Just can imagine that writing the book had something to do with recording this album.


Liner notes from NY:
God Save The Queen
"Written in the 18th century with possible melodic roots in the 17th century, this anthem has been sung throughout the British Commonwealth and may have been sung in North America before the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence in 1776, which rejected British sovereignty. The Americana arrangement draws from the original melody and changes some melody and lyrics in the folk process, also adding lyrics of the same melody taken from “My Country ’Tis Of Thee”, in recognition of the war of Independence and America’s transition to freedom."

But Tim, what about this one:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyGGG1I-rf8

 
At 3/28/2012 10:19:00 AM, Blogger Pinto(or Flounder) said...

Neil Young - Americana

Side One
Broken Arrow
Pocahontas
Southern Man
See the Sky About to Rain
Powderfinger

Side Two
Revolution Blues
Depression Blues
Rockin' in the Free World
Albuquerque
I'm the Ocean

Feel free to make your own. It is, after all, all one song.

 
At 3/28/2012 11:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neil Young - Americana



Side One

Thrasher
Ordinary People
Southern Man

Ohio
Pocahontas


Side Two

Ambulance Blues

Albuquerque

Cough Up The Bucks
The Restless Consumer
The Old Homestead
When God Made Me

 
At 3/28/2012 11:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is, after all, all one song.

 
At 3/28/2012 12:13:00 PM, Anonymous Tony Hammond said...

God Save the Queen elitist? Try telling that to the Sex Pistols.

Hey I'm a Brit and I can't wait to hear what a Canadian living in the USA makes of "my" National Anthem. And the liner notes talk about changes to the lyrics so I doubt we'll be hearing the standard royal version.

Billy Bragg, Chumbawamba and the Oyster Band in the UK have all reinterpreted old folk songs and re-radicalised them to great effect, so I'm willing to give Neil the benefit of the doubt.

Tony Hammond UK

 
At 3/28/2012 12:35:00 PM, Anonymous The Zuma Band said...

As a Canadian Neil Young would have heard and sung GSTQ a lot growing up, so why should it come as a surprise that he would mix it in with all these other roots songs? As an American Jimi Hendrix did the "Star Spangled Banner" after all, which NY has certainly referenced many times.

 
At 3/28/2012 01:09:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Mulvey ‏ @JohnRMulvey Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
#nowplaying Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Americana"

 
At 3/28/2012 01:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Mulvey ‏ @JohnRMulvey Reply Retweet Favorite · Open
In response to all your questions, I'm writing some kind of first response to "Americana" now. Bear with me...

Uncut Magazine > http://www.uncut.co.uk/

 
At 3/28/2012 03:03:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

AMERICANA (July 4, 2002)

as told by SONY:
writtin while reflecting on 9/11 on the first independance day after the tradegy
________________________

We got freedom of speech
We got freedom to preach
Got my brother
Standin' beside me
We got freedom to love
Got the Lord up above
Got my brother
Standin' beside me

We got freedom for war
We got freedom for hate
Brother Stand beside me
Got lady liberty tall
We got the Golden Gate
Got my brother
Standin' beside me

We believe
All men are born the same
Rights to Life
Liberty
Pursuit of gain
We believe
All men are born the same


We got stars and stripes
up and down the turnpike
Got my brother
Standin' beside me
We got racial strife
Most of our life
Got my brother
Standin' beside me

We got United Way
We got minimum pay
Brother Stand beside me
Got Independence Day
With fireworks display
Got my brother
Standin' beside me

We believe
All men are born the same
Rights to Life
Liberty
Pursuit of gain
We believe
All men are born the same

We got balance and checks
Barbeques on the decks
Got my brother
Standin' beside me
We got hotels and guests
We got checkers and chess
Got my brother
Standin' beside me

We got freedom for all
The old and the small
Brother Stand beside me
We got things that appall
Can't believe it at all
Got my brother
Standin' beside me

We believe
All men are born the same
Rights to Life
Liberty
Pursuit of gain
We believe
All men are born the same


We got 4 on the floor
We got bolts on the door
Got my brother
Standin' beside me
Got abortions galore
A presidential Rushmore
Got my brother
Standin' beside me

We got NY, NY
We got the D.C. port
Brother Stand beside me
We got barrels of pork
A road with a fork
Got my brother
Standin' beside me

We believe
All men are born the same
Rights to Life
Liberty
Pursuit of gain
We believe
All men are born the same

We got the rights to bear arms
We got vanishing farms
Got my brother
Standin' beside me
We got nuclear bombs
To keep us from harm
Got my brother
Standin' beside me

We got the 50 states
The halls full of greats
Brother Stand beside me
We got the shuttle in space
Are we winnin' the race
Got my brother
Standin' beside me

We believe
All men are born the same
Rights to Life
Liberty
Pursuit of gain
We believe
All men are born the same

We got scandalous priests
We got squaws and chiefs
Got my brother
Standin' beside me
We got corporate cheats
We got villains and thieves
Got my brother
Standin' beside me

We got a total array
Of issues today
Brother Stand beside me
We got a battle to wage
For tomorrow I'll pray
Got my brother
Standin' beside me
Brother Stand beside me
Brother Stand beside me

We believe
All men are born the same
Rights to Life
Liberty
Pursuit of gain
We believe
All men are born the same

 
At 3/28/2012 03:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ The Zuma Band...The point is that it doesnt seem to fit in with the overall theme of the album as I mentioned in the first post. It's also what the song represents that I have a problem with. Celebrating aristocratic privilege, crushing your own people, subservience to royalty and monarchical rule seems to be at odds with the rest of the album. I dunno...Its just a bizarre choice to me! I would be interested to know Neils thoughts on it. Hendrix doing the Star Spangled Banner is nowhere near the same thing. To me that would have been a much better song to cover on this project. GSTQ is a song about being subservient, knowing your place and letting the ruling and unelected classes 'reign' over us.

@ Tony Hammond.....you do realize that we're talking about two different songs here? The Pistols wrote their song as they had resentment for the monarchy which they saw as an elitist and "fascist regime".


-Tim

 
At 3/28/2012 03:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sex Pistols:

God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
Potential H-bomb

God save the queen
She ain't no human being
There is no future
In England's dreaming

No future, no future,
No future for you
No future, no future,
No future for me

No future, no future,
No future for you
No future, no future
For you

 
At 3/28/2012 03:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sex Pistols:

God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
Potential H-bomb

God save the queen
She ain't no human being
There is no future
In England's dreaming

No future, no future,
No future for you
No future, no future,
No future for me

No future, no future,
No future for you
No future, no future
For you

 
At 3/28/2012 03:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting Sony!

 
At 3/28/2012 05:09:00 PM, Blogger Dmitri Karamazov said...

Neil Young can kick my a$s all around the block if he wants to. I'll buy anything/everything with his name on it. NEIL YOUNG = MARK OF QUALITY

"Bumper stickers should be issued!!!!!!!"

 
At 3/28/2012 05:19:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 3/28/2012 05:21:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

"All Things Considered" did a story on Woody's song back in 2000 mentioning Woody's irritation with Irving Berlin:

He was irritated by Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," sung by Kate Smith, which seemed to be endlessly playing on the radio in the late 1930s. So irritated, in fact, that he wrote this song as a retort, at first sarcastically calling it "God Blessed America for Me" before renaming it "This Land Is Your Land." Guthrie's original words to the song included this verse:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said 'Private Property.'
But on the backside, it didn't say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.


This verse was recorded by Moses Asch in 1944, but not released. In fact, Guthrie's recorded version was more or less lost until Smithsonian archivist Jeff Place heard the acetate master during a 1997 transfer of the recording to a digital format. Still, it was sung at rallies, around campfires and in progressive schools. It was these populist lyrics that had appealed to the political Left in America.

Radical Verses

Guthrie's folk-singing son, Arlo Guthrie, and Pete Seeger have both made a point of singing the more radical verses to "This Land Is Your Land," also reviving another verse that Guthrie wrote but never officially recorded. This verse was scribbled on a sheet of loose-leaf paper now in the possession of daughter Nora's Woody Guthrie Archives.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
by the relief office I saw my people.
As they stood hungry,
I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.

 
At 3/28/2012 05:29:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Also from the interview:

Nora Guthrie says she has an idea why these words may not have been recorded at the 1944 session — and why the 'private property' verse that was recorded was not issued. "This is the early '50s, and [U.S. Sen. Joseph] McCarthy's out there, and it was considered dangerous in many ways to record this kind of material," she says.

"If my dad had done the recording, I don't think it would have meant anything to him if he was imprisoned, actually," she says. "He was quite used to living without and having nights in prison and things like that. Like most of the things, if we're talking about my dad, it gets very complex here. So I think, you know, The Weavers originally just recorded the first three verses — which, in one way, was very, very helpful to my dad, because we had no money. So thank God that they recorded something, and our family was able to get some royalties from that."

 
At 3/29/2012 03:43:00 AM, Blogger BecauseSoundMatters said...

Thanks for the information MNOTR! Great story!
Due to the circumstances of the past few days you might forget that this is a Neil Young blog. As you know Neil is famous for being Neil. So here's Woody's lost verse compared to Neil's verse.

Woody:
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said 'Private Property.'
But on the backside, it didn't say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

Neil:
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing.
That side was made for you and me.

Peace!

 
At 3/29/2012 05:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.uncut.co.uk/blog/wild-mercury-sound/neil-young-crazy-horses-americana-first-listen

 
At 3/29/2012 11:11:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

Salute and a toast to the incomparable Earl Scruggs...RIP. Maybe no one else has single handedly influenced the music and the musicians that we all listen to more than this unassuming man. I can remember the look that my mom would get listening to him play his banjo. Back when "folk music" was looked down on by many "serious music lovers", he showed the world there is equal beauty in a banjo solo and a Segovia Bach Cantata. Thank you sir!

Really enjoyed the piece in latest Wild Mercury column and thanks to Anonymous for posting the link early this morning. Don't you just love John Mulvey and his music comments!? And the quote that stands out for me is the most simple and direct: "Young's solos are relatively brief, unfailingly beautiful". If there were one more syllable there, you'd have the perfect Haiku for 21st Century Neil Young. All you have to do is add the word "and" and voila you are all set!

Neil is paring down his music to get back to where he started from and where he never really left. From the death of Danny Whitten to the birth of Sun Green, his work with Crazy Horse has been about taking what's happening and using the good, bad, happy and painful experiences that he sees and feels, taking that starting point to show us his world and ours. With the ability to take what others have done and transform it into something new, unique and wonderful.

Now as he gets older and sees more happening, a funny thing happens. The world doesn't seem quite so solid anymore and the foundations you thought would always be there start to melt away. What's left is the artist with an indomitable spirit and a joy in living and sharing with others.

Joseph Campbell talks about the Hindu concept of maya, which is that all the world is basically illusion. He states that when you are young, it's hard to understand such a concept and attach any meaning to it. But as you get older, it becomes easier to see and realize that the true meaning of life is finding your still center, that which exists both inside and outside of this. In doing so, you realize the best life is one which does service for someone else. This is when you find yourself by losing yourself.

The video of This Land Is Your Land is great and thanks for sharing this. I especially love when Bruce has to coax Alejandro out front to sing the second verse and then he does a great job with this. As I've said before, I think of this song as our other national anthem (along with America The Beautiful) and my mom used to sing it to me all the time. Arlo's version is the best for me but love this one and I'm looking forward to hearing Neil and Crazy Horse with their take.

I saw Bruce a half dozen times back in the early days, and this video reminds me of the second time, which was the greatest rock and roll concert I have ever seen. It was at a movie theater in Springfield and we were in the middle of the second row. This was still pre Born To Run and it was the original band, with David Sancious on keyboards. They did every song from the first two albums and it was just tremendous. Second song was Spirits In The Night and I can still see Clarence playing the opening notes. Over the next couple years, I saw Bruce four more times and watched him become the superstar that we know. But to me he's still the guy that I'm watching from row two, and I'm sure that's how he would want it to be: "It's my life and I'll do what I want".

 

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