Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, America!

It's July 4th, a day to wave flags, eat hot dogs, and set off decorative explosive devices. (And hopefully not lose a finger in the process.) Me? Not sure how I'm celebrating - I'm kinda hard to reach, with my phone being off over a week and me unable to get it turned back on until tomorrow.

I do know I'm always of two minds about my country. I've never been a blind patriot - we tend to be a big bully, at home and abroad, and not mindful of the little guy. That disappoints me. We also are seriously damaged as a republic and in serious need of mending, and no two people can agree on HOW it should be done. Which bodes ill for us all. This may be an eternal problem, however: Witness Husker Du's 30-year-old protest classic "In A Free Land," here taken at a slower, more classic punk rock pace than the more hardcore version on their 2nd 45. Still, Bob Mould's guitar and words ring harshly in indicting our system: "Why bother spending time/Reading up on things/Everyone's an authority/In a free land." Sadly, this still holds true, Bob....

Still, America is a great country that's offered a lot to this world culturally. Dave Alvin knew this well when he penned "American Music" for his then-band, The Blasters. I still can't figure out why he didn't include punk rock in the roll call of great musics America has given the world. And I could add a shitload of great artists (Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, etc., etc.), poets (Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, etc.), and authors (Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Jack Kerouac, etc.):

Ultimately, I can think of no better celebration of the American spirit than the moment Jimi Hendrix took the stage at Woodstock and played the national anthem. Here he was, a man whose country had long crushed his people, and he rose above that and became an artist of unparalleled vision and force. Then he applied that force to a song written by a pair of slave owners, which had become his nation's rallying cry. And as he played the national anthem in the midst of a brutal war we had no reason to be in, this former US Army veteran added a crying, wailing tone to "The Star Spangled Banner," as well as all the rockets redglare and bombs bursting in air we'd sung about all these years. It's hard to ever sing this, after hearing how Jimi did it:

There you have it, Irregulars. My feelings about this country I love, yet weep for, expressed the best way I know how: Through song. Maybe I'll finally write my own American musical epic today. Who knows? I suggest you celebrate in the way you see fit. And let's report back in a few days. Be good out there!

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