Independence Day set to music
We went swimming at our hometown pool this morning, where everybody gets the resident rate today (on the 4th of July, we all live in Forest Park). A mix of music clearly meant to be patriotic was playing over the speakers in lieu of the usual Top 40 pop station. To my mind, any less time hearing “Rolling in the Deep” and “We Are Young” the better. This latter song, by ’fun’ always makes me think of “Love is a Battlefield,” which inspires a good mashup, if someone out there wants a good idea for a mashup.
Anyhow, this patriotic music consisted of the following:
- An occasional J.P. Sousa march
- Banjo versions of Stephen Foster tunes (like “Oh, Susanna”). Banjo music = ‘merican, I guess.
- Drum and fife versions of revolutionary war songs, like “Battle Hymn of the Republic”
- No Lee Greenwood. (whew).
- Banjo version of “Dixie.”
“What the fsck?” I found myself thinking between rounds of being splashed in the face as Finn leaped into the pool, swam out to me like a floating dock in a lake, then turned around and swam back. “Isn’t ‘Dixie’ one of the anthems of the revolutionary South? What’s that doing in an Independence Day collection? Sure was. Here’s Wikipedia (usually right, though I wouldn’t bet your child on any particular thing you find there at any particular time):
The song originated in the blackface minstrel shows of the 1850s and quickly grew famous across the United States. Its lyrics, written in a comic, exaggerated version of African American Vernacular English, tell the story of a freed black slave pining for the plantation of his birth. During the American Civil War, “Dixie” was adopted as a de facto anthem of the Confederacy. New versions appeared at this time that more explicitly tied the song to the events of the Civil War. Since the advent of the North American Civil Rights Movement, many have identified the lyrics of the song with the iconography and ideology of the Old South. Today, “Dixie” is sometimes considered offensive, and its critics link the act of singing it to sympathy for the concept of slavery in the American South. Its supporters, on the other hand, view it as a legitimate aspect of Southern culture and heritage and the campaigns against it as political correctness. In fact, the song was a favorite of President Abraham Lincoln; he had it played at some of his political rallies and at the announcement of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender. (“Dixie (song)“)
Two thoughts about this. First, I think it’s terrible to play “Dixie” as part of an Independence Day celebration, since it’s so tied up with the major failure of the first Independence movement in our country, the failure to free ALL our people from unjust governance. Second, Lincoln had them play “Dixie” at the announcement of Lee’s surrender? Sounds like a dick move to me.
I thought, though, that if the pool had asked me to assemble a playlist celebrating America, I would have come up with something slightly different. Here’s mine:
As you can tell, my America list isn’t just “God Bless the USA”-Boot-in-Your-Ass patriotism. In fact, it’s none of that. There’s a fair amount of “America is a great place of hope and justice.” But there’s also quite a bit of “America could be a lot better than it is.” To borrow Al Franken’s phrasing (from Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them), I love America the way adults love people, not by pretending that we’re perfect, but by loving who we are and working to be the best people we can be. Hence, Neil Diamond and Green Day both. I also include a fair amount of both folk music and punk, as these music traditions are, to my mind, very American. The biggest missing piece of the American music spectrum, obviously, is Rap/Hip-hop, as I don’t really listen to that so can’t sample it. I suspect there are some pretty great songs about America from that genre as well.
I have to say, I sympathize a lot with Aaron Sorkin’s vision of our country. The Network-style rant from the beginning of Newsroom seems to fit — of course, in the second half of the rant, everything he identifies that “we did” was also NOT true at the same time. Nonetheless, I felt a lot of connection with it. So I’ll leave you with that (swearing ahead, sorry):
For those of you keeping close watch on this blog, you’ll noticed I made this post live on 5 July. Cheater! I’d written much of it on 4 July, but forgot to click “publish.” Oh well.