One of our great pleasures at Collective Next is co-curating TEDxBoston. We just completed our sixth year helping organize the event. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to share some of the favorite talks and performances we worked on this year and what we learned working on them.
I’m going to share something that I didn’t share on the stage at Faneuil Hall: I hate “God Bless America.” You know, Irving Berlin’s patriotic song. I especially hate the first-person nature of the lyrics — “land that I love,” “my home sweet home.” As an idea, America is about community, but Berlin’s “God Bless America” is all me me me. That song has, if I can mess with the TED mantra a bit, no ideas worth spreading.
Woody Guthrie hated “God Bless America,” too, and he wrote “This Land Is Your Land” as an angry response. Who was this land made for? Not just me, as Irving Berlin wrote. This land was made for you and me. Guthrie’s song captures the physical beauty of this country — it’s full of endless skyways, diamond deserts, waving wheat fields — but it’s also full of radical ideas and disappointment. It’s a love letter to a country that has let Woody down but he still can’t quit it.
That ambiguous, questioning, nuanced, angry, but ultimately hopeful “This Land Is Your Land” is not the one most of us know. Over the years, “This Land Is Your Land” has turned into, well, “God Bless America.” The tougher verses have disappeared, the arrangements are bland and twee, and what remains is a song we hear performed all the time but don’t really hear anymore.
One of the ideas we curators had when we designed this year’s TEDxBoston was that the show be about rethinking what we take for granted, reconsidering the familiar, maybe even the overfamiliar, in new ways. Since so many of the abominable versions of “This Land Is Your Land” we’ve heard through the years have been perpetrated by groups of children, we thought it would be fitting to welcome back to TEDxBoston Anthony Trecek-King and the Boston Children’s Chorus (you can see their outstanding TEDxBoston 2012 performances here and here). They performed a tough, anything but sweet “This Land Is Your Land” (arranged by Stephen Feigenbaum) that we guarantee will make you hear something you took for granted in a new way. This is what rescuing a tremendous, poorly served song sounds like. We are grateful to Anthony and the Chorus for their amazing work. (And, if you missed TEDxBoston and want to witness them perform this in person, we’re pretty certain they’ll play it here.)Back