Legion. An amalgamated journal.


Apparently I wasn’t the only one bully for Pete Seeger—an initiative has leapt to the task of urging the Friends Service Committee to nominate Seeger for the Nobel Peace Prize. It claims:

Pete Seeger is an ambassador for Peace and Social Justice and has been over the course of his 88-year lifetime. Using his prowess as a musician he worked to engage other people, from all walks of life and across generations, in causes to build a better and more civilized world: His work shows up wherever you look in the history of labor solidarity, growth of mass effort to end the Vietnam war, ban of nuclear weapons, work for international diplomacy, support of the Civil Rights Movement, for cleaning up the Hudson River and for environmental responsibility in general.

All well and good: Seeger is an icon of a populist, authentic brand of Americana-leftism that I am particularly nostalgic for. So I signed the petition, and I encourage you to as well.

But I think a better use of collective lobbying effort would be found in convincing the federal government to make “This Land Is Your Land” our national anthem in place of the pompous, aristocratic number that we currently have. Custom has made us comfortable with the “Star-Spangled Banner,” but it’s a bit of precious irony that our national anthem is a militaristic jingle set to a tune from the country we rebelled from, made official in 1931 by the president who oversaw our entry into catastrophic depression. What’s more, the song’s impossible to sing well by anyone other than trained vocalists—backwards indeed in a country obsessed with a national mythology of equality and the achievement of the common man.

“This Land is Your Land,” on the other hand, is pure rural folktune, which, along with blues and rap, is one of the most uniquely American of musical styles. If we are going to have a national anthem, it may as well celebrate our own artistic heritage. It’s a song that recalls the American obsession with its first and principal resource—land—and yet insists that it is a resource held in common. Even leaving out the more radical stanzas, it’s a song which plainly asserts the basic dignity and simple conclusions of a nation which is as stubbornly insistent on its freedom and practicality as it is skeptical of aristocracy and pomp.

The “Star-Spangled Banner” has only been around as national anthem for 78 years. That’s not quite enough yet to lend it any historical veneration. I say it’s time to swap it out for a better tune before it gets too old and crusty to dislodge.

Garrett Dash Nelson

January 28th, 2009 at 5:05 pm

But perhaps you disagree

No responses so far

The room is, as yet, filled with smoke and apprehension.