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Posts Tagged ‘Fourth of July’

I am not feeling celebratory on this Fourth of July.  I have strong feelings about the ideals of this nation and the recent events here challenge my belief that those ideals can prevail or even merely hold on. There is just a bit too much irony in today celebrating our independence from what we viewed as the grip of cruel tyranny in 1776. We are weakening our country when we accept cruelty and selfishness as an aspect of our governance and national character. And make no mistake about what I am saying, selfish cruelty is weakness and we are witness to that currently. Here’s a post from several years back that I run every now and then on this day, speaking to our better ideals. Enjoy your 4th.

Jasper Johns “Flag”

Another Fourth of July.

Parades. Picnics. Fireworks. Red, white and blue. That’s the shorthand version of this day. The actual meaning of this day is much harder to capture, probably more so for Americans than for those from other countries who view us from a distance. I think we sometimes lose sight of the idea and ideal of America in our day to day struggle to maintain our own lives. But even that struggle is symptomatic of the basis of our nation, reminding us that anything worth preserving requires work and maintenance.

For me,  America is not a static ideal, a credo written in granite that will always be there. It is vaporous and always changing, like a dense fog. But it is an inviting fog, one that is warm on the skin and invites you in with hazy promises of possibility.

And maybe that is all America ever was and will be– the promise of possibility.

Maybe it is the sheer potential of a better and safer life, the possibility of remaking one’s self, that defines our ideal America. We are at our best when we are open and inviting, offering our opportunity and empathy to all. We are a long way from our ideal when we close our doors and try to capture the vapor that is America all for ourselves. It is not ours to hold– we are simply caretakers of an ideal, one that brought most of our ancestors here.

Maybe this doesn’t make any sense. Since it is such a hazy thing, this amorphous fog that is our ideal, we all see it in different ways. This is just how I see it.

Here’s a video of the song America from Simon and Garfunkel, as performed by David Bowie. This is not a flag waving, chest thumping anthem but it speaks as much to the meaning of the American ideal in that simple chorus — all gone to look for America— as the very best Sousa march.

Have a good day.

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Woody Guthrie -This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie -This Machine Kills Fascists

Since we’re in the midst of the Fourth of July weekend, I thought this Sunday’s musical selection should be something with a definite American flavor.   The song is This Land Is Your Land from the great Woody Guthrie.

You are no doubt familiar with this song, probably thinking of it as a cheery, upbeat song about the beauty and breadth of our democracy, sung often by smiling church and school choruses.  It’s become a kind of populist national anthem which is sort of ironic given its beginnings and the words of the song.  You see, there are verses that are seldom sung by the choruses and flag waving nationalists, verses that very much change the tone and meaning of the song.

Guthrie wrote the song in the late 1930’s in response to the immense popularity at that time of  the Kate Smith version of God Bless America, written by Irving Berlin.  Guthrie saw the world coming apart due to the nationalistic extremism that had spread through Europe, producing fascist leaders such as Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain.

The original intro to God Bless America had the lines: While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free / Let us all be grateful that we’re far from there, / As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.  That phrase that we’re far from there was later changed to for a land so fair.  Guthrie saw it as a call to an isolated form of nationalism, one that cast a blind eye to the perils lurking abroad that were beginning to spread here as well as our own problems at home.  Problems like poverty and inequality.

Guthrie wanted to address these problems in his retort to Berlin’s song.  At first, Guthrie sarcastically called his song God Blessed America For Me before naming it This Land Is Your Land.

Below are the two verses in the original version of This Land Is Your Land that are always omitted from those cheery civic versions speak to the ills of this country as Guthrie saw them, most noticeably  the greed which led to the great chasm of inequality between the wealthy and the poor of this land.  He questioned how a land with so much wealth and beauty, one based on the equality of man, could tolerate the extreme poverty and injustice he saw in his travels across this land.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
by the relief office I saw my people.
As they stood hungry,
I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.

It’s an interesting song that speaks to this crazy time in the world as blind nationalism rises abroad and here in the USA.  Give a listen to this wonderful version of the song from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and pay special attention to the words.  Have a great Sunday and a great 4th.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQ78uDio_ao

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Fourth of July Parade of ScoutsAnother Fourth of July.

Parades.  Picnics. Fireworks. Red, white and blue.  That’s the shorthand version of this day.  The actual meaning of this day is much harder to capture, probably more so for Americans than for those from other countries who view us from a distance.  I think we sometimes lose sight of the idea and ideal of America in our day to day struggle to maintain our own lives.  But even that struggle is symptomatic of the basis of our nation, reminding us that anything worth preserving requires work and maintenance.

For me,  America is not a static ideal, a credo written in granite that will always be there.  It is vaporous and ever changing, like a dense fog.  But it is an inviting fog, one that is warm on the skin and invites you in with hazy promises of possibility.  And maybe all America is– possibility.

Maybe it is the sheer potential of a better and safer life, the possibility of remaking one’s self, that defines our ideal America.  We are at our best when we are open and inviting,  offering our possibility and empathy to all .  We are a long way from our ideal when we close our doors and try to capture the vapor  that is  America all for ourselves.  It is not ours to hold– we are simply caretakers of an ideal, one that brought most of our ancestors here.

Maybe this doesn’t make any sense.  Since it is such a hazy ideal, we all see it in different ways.  This is just how I see it.

Here’s a video of the song America from Simon and Garfunkel, as performed by David Bowie during the Concert For New York City in the aftermath of 9/11.  This is not a flag waving , chest thumping anthem but it speaks as much to the ideal of  the American ideal in that simple chorus — all gone to look for America— as the very best Sousa march.

Have a great Fourth!

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