This Date in Music History: Feb. 23

'This Land Is Your Land' turns 72 and Aziz Ansari turns Kanye jokes into an artform

click to enlarge Woody Guthrie (World Telegram photo by Al Aumuller/Library of Congress)
Woody Guthrie (World Telegram photo by Al Aumuller/Library of Congress)

On this day in 1940, American music icon Woody Guthrie wrote his most famous song and one that has become embedded into the DNA of American life, "This Land is You Land." The Folk music legend and notorious fighter for the social causes of the poor and working class is said to have written the song after hearing (a few too many times) Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," which he felt was too hyperbolic. Just like Roxanne Shante's "The Real Roxanne" was written as a response to U.T.F.O.'s "Roxanne Roxanne" (OK, maybe not JUST like), "This Land" was Guthrie's "answer song." Guthrie recorded the future standard five years later, but it wasn't until the ’60s Folk revival that the song really took flight, as everyone from Bob Dylan to The Kingston Trio covered the tune. Though "God Bless America" may be the song still sung at baseball games, "This Land is You Land" has endured as one of the greatest pieces of American art, a reflection of what many of us believe our country is all about — "We're all in this together and lucky to be on this wonderful little chunk of dirt, so shut up and quit being so selfish, jerk-ass!" Or something along those lines (maybe I read too much into it).

The song is still common at protests and used in political contexts. Bruce Springsteen closed his acoustic concerts in support of Barrack Obama in 2008 with a version ("Yes We Can" chants added), while Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello serenaded the mass of humanity at the Occupy Wall Street protest in NYC with the song (lost verses and all) this past October.

Here is one of the great "contemporary" versions — a rendition by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, who give the song a sweet vintage Soul makeover:

Click the jump for "Born This Day" featuring Aziz Ansari, the Mark Twain of Kanye West jokes.—-

Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a Feb 23 birthday include legendary Blues/Rock guitarist Johnny Winter (1944); Aerosmith's "other guitarist" Brad Whitford (1952); Synth Pop hitmaker ("No One is to Blame," "Things Can Only Get Better") Howard Jones (1955); frontman for British New Wave band Japan, David Sylvian (1958); guitarist for Prog Metal favorites Queensryche, Michael Wilton (1962); the man responsible for the organ-grinding riff on U.K. Psych Pop band The Charlatans' "The Only One I Know," late keyboardist Rob Collins (1963) and stand-up comedian/co-star of NBC's Parks and Recreation Aziz Ansari (1983).

I know, I know … Ansari isn't technically (or un-technically, as far as I can tell) a musician, but he does play a role in the music world (and has good taste). Besides being one of the funniest stand-ups on the planet right now, co-creating the criminally under-watched Human Giant sketch show for MTV and taking movie roles like RAAAAAAAAANDY!, the bombastic comedy superstar in Funny People, Ansari is also the king of Kanye West humor. Making fun of the eccentric rapper has become a popular pastime the last few years, the source of easy punchlines for a wide cross-section of Americans — even your grandma probably can't resist an aside about someone being "Kanye'd" (aka bum-rushed) every time she watches an awards ceremony (which is A LOT).

But Ansari is our Kanye satirist laureate. He is Kelly Clarkson, while the rest of us our those delusional souls from American Idol's reject pile. We go after Kanye because it takes little effort; his own outlandish words make him an impossibly easy target. But Ansari has turned making fun of Kanye into an artform.

Ansari's Kanye ribbing comes from a place of love, though. He's clearly a fan of Kanye's work, so like the rest of his comedy, his mockery of the Hip Hop star is presented without a trace of anger or hate. He LOVES Kanye's ridiculousness, genuinely.

Ansari's loving roasting of Kanye has taken a few different forms. There was the comedian's awesome run of #PredictingKanyeTweets on Twitter after West joined the social media site and began putting his ridiculousness into an endless stream of bite-sized nuggets of Kanye-isms (Ansari's offerings included gems like "Da cufflinks gotta look like BABY tigers! Who da fuck gonna have a full grown tiger as a cufflink?!").

Perhaps best of all are the stories about Kanye that have made for some of Ansari's funniest stand-up bits, especially his tale of getting invited back to the MC's pad only to find West sitting alone, intensely listening to his own music ("I was like 'Yo man, are you listening to your own album in your own house bopping your own head?' and he goes, 'Yeah, these beats are dope.' "). That bit leads into his hilarious story about connecting his young cousin/brand-new Hip Hop fanatic Darwish with Kanye. Check it (language NSFW):

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