Oregon, Their Oregon

Oregon has just revised our state song. It was filed with the Oregon Secretary of State yesterday. It doesn’t get any more official that that.

The principal virtue of the new version is that it gets rid of some really embarrassing language from the old version. That really needed to be done. “Conquered and held by free men” calls up a lot of scenes that were celebrated in 1920 when it was written. “Land of the empire builders” sounded a lot better before we turned against the idea of having an empire. And “blessed by the blood of martyrs” requires a particular historical perspective and a special reading of history.

I, myself, am nowhere near the front of the line of people who court being offended by outdated language. Still, even I found myself shying away from the language of what we can now call “the old version” of the song.

On the other hand, you can’t really “declare” a new state song. You can remove the old one. But if you had a community gathering and wanted to amp up patriotic sentiment by singing “the Oregon state song,” the words people would sing would be the old ones. They would sing the ones they know. They are not going to learn the new ones, even if they are better, because the new ones don’t have any claim on their lives.

My kids and I used to sing “Oregon, My Oregon” because a) we were just moving there and b) it was a real rouser. For that reason, I will probably learn the new lyrics. I have already sent them to the kids—who are now in their 50s and 60s, but still…

It may be that we are past the era of “state songs.” That Oregon should have an official song doesn’t really sound contemporary to me. The new state song is not going to catch on if people don’t sing state songs anymore. We can listen to choirs sing it on special occasions, I suppose, but the old people won’t know the new words and the young people won’t sing “state songs.” So probably, we will just stop singing it. That doesn’t appear to be the intent of the legislature, but I’d guess it will be the effect.

Nothing in the new version (see the Appendix) has anything to do with people. It is a celebration of nature and there is a lot of nature in Oregon to celebrate. It is about nature because we can agree about nature, leaving an owl to two to be decided upon. But we have no version of the history of our people that we can sing together. So we just write “us” out of the song. Problem solved. [1]

I am quite sure that the legislators who passed this Resolution thought they were substituting a new song for an old song. I fear they are substituting no song at all for the old song.

[1] Is it only a matter of time until we get to the Star Spangled Banner, which contains these words, tucked safely into the obscurity of the third stanza.

“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave…”

Appendix: The words to the newly-adopted version of Oregon, My Oregon

Land of Majestic Mountains
Land of the Great Northwest
Forests and rolling rivers
Grandest and the best
Onward and upward ever
Forward and on, and on
Hail to thee, Land of Heroes,
My Oregon

Land of the rose and sunshine
Land of the summer’s breeze
Laden with health and vigor
Fresh from the Western seas
Blessed by the love of freedom
Land of the setting sun
Hail to thee, Land of Promise,
My Oregon

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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