I had big plans to share some thoughts about my conflicted love for America in 2011 on the anniversary of our birth as a nation. But looking in the archives, I saw that I had written it before: both the previous year, when we mused upon the complexity of patriotism in a modern age, and in our first year, at a time when our national discourse was increasingly polarized by the impending presidential election.
And so I added a few songs to our original America The Beautiful feature, and let it fly like a star spangled balloon. And now, five years later, we’re back again, with a few new additions to the canon.
Our Single Song Sunday from 2010 remains archived, and we encourage you to head back in time for 10 covers of Paul Simon’s American Tune, and some thoughts on the complicated times which continue to characterize our national zeitgeist. But since it’s been a while, here’s our 2008 post revisited a second time. Its sentiment stands: may your Independence Day be thoughtful, too.
I’m not exactly the patriotic type. I’ve been to more countries than states; I prefer solitude to mall culture. Heck, we don’t even have basic cable. But all power-hungry, commercial/corporate complex, bittersweet modernity aside, I believe in the ideals which frame the constant American dialogue with itself — including first and foremost the requirement that we keep talking, lest we abdicate our role as government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
And I believe that, by definition, as music which speaks of and for a people, American folk music holds a particular place in that conversation which is America. Folk focuses that conversation, making it real and vivid, whether it is through the lens of policy critique or protest cry, the immigrant experience or the internal monologue of a singer-songwriter struggling to be free.
Checks and balances and a mechanism for self-correction; fireworks and barbecue, and the right to make dumb mistakes and have to live with ‘em. Losing love, and falling in it again. Finding hope, and being scared to dream one more time. It’s the American way, all of it — and it’s been that way since inception.
Which is to say: if I may sometimes work to change the policies of those in power, through sharing song or through town meeting politics, it is because I love this country. And I hope I never lose that fluttery feeling in my stomach when we come in for a landing at the international terminal, and I know that I am home.
So let other bloggers share patriotic song today. I’d rather take the country as it is: dialogic, complex, open about its faults and favors, and always looking for a better way. And if saying so means posting songs we have posted here before, then so be it — for these are, after all, timeless songs, with messages that bear repeating.
Happy Birthday, America. Long may your contradictions endear us to you. May you never lose hope. And may we never stop singing.
- Pesky J. Nixon: Americans In Corduroys (orig. Jeffrey Foucault)
(from Red Ducks, Vol. 2; more Pesky J. Nixon here)
- Richard Shindell: Born in the U.S.A. (orig. Bruce Springsteen)
(from South of Delia; more Richard here)
- Michael Weston King: Simple Song of Freedom (orig. Bobby Darin)
(from I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier; more Michael here)
- David Rawlings Machine: I Hear Them All (orig. Old Crow Medicine Show)
(from A Friend Of A Friend; more David here)
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