Recently I decided to include more music into my lessons. I started this with my American Literature courses (the College in the High School and mainstream classes), and my students have reacted quote favorably.
Initially, I used The Who’s “Baba O’Rily” and “My Generation” with Anne Tyler’s “Teenage Wasteland.” Not only do the lyrics match the short story quite well, but the pacing of “Baba O’Reily” matches the story as well, especially the abrupt finish.
With The Grapes of Wrath I included “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” My favorite part of Guthrie’s folk song is the last two (often forgotten or excluded) verses:
As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
And that sign said – no tress passin’
But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!
In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.
These lines really seem to sum up the feelings of Tom Joad at the end of the novel as he realizes that “his people” may not have a place in this country, that he will have to fight for the “Okies” and any other underdog.
Springsteen’s ballad contains folksy, desperate imagery much like Steinbeck’s simple but beautiful prose. For example, he writes about “Highway patrol choppers comin’ up over the ridge” and the “Shelter line stretchin’ round the corner.” He even includes obvious allusions to Jim Casy, the humanist, and Casy’s disciple Tom Joad. Maybe less apparent is the biblical allusion to the “promised land” just as Steinbeck used the Joads to represent the Exodus to the Promised Land. It’s a wonderful song, even quoting directly from the novel.
I’m looking to add more music to my lessons as I see my students quickly engage with it.