Patriotic Music

Today we celebrate the declaration of freedom of one group of white, male, landowning imperialists from the tyranny of another group of white, male landowning imperialists. (I’m writing this on 4 July, but you won’t see it until the 5th, since everything goes live at midnight. As usual, if you just read your email you won’t see/hear the music links, so click the title and open the page.)

Samuel Johnson has been quoted (by Boswell) as saying that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Our current president hugging and kissing a flag immediately comes to mind.

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

In the 1960s, the people who were the equivalent of Trump’s base today had a bumper sticker that said, “America: Love it or Leave it”. Soon another bumpersticker appeared reading, “America: Love is not Enough”. The triumvirate concluded with, “America: Fix it or Fuck it”. I wrote an essay in high school in which I chose the third and concluded, “In my life, I want to be the fixer.” The elderly version of me would say, “I don’t trust any philosophy that can fit on a bumper sticker.”

I have seen other blogs listing “patriotic music” we should listen to today. As I rambled through 50 miles of countryside this morning, a few patriotic tunes ran through my head, so here is my contribution to the day. First, a potential alternate national anthem. I am far from the first to suggest that.

Much music has been written for “important” people. Aaron Copland decided it was time for a fanfare for the common people. (The imagery in the video seems to have been chosen by someone who had a totally different idea of what Copland meant.)

When I heard Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee perform this song I had a new appreciation for the song and the harmonica, and of the benefits of growing up in a college town so I could see and hear them.

Even presidents who accomplished great things in their tenure can ultimately fail. I always liked this intro, even though the song had nothing to do with LBJ. With a band name like “The Electric Flag” (with the subtitle “An American Music Band”) I had to squeeze them in, with their rendition of this Howlin’ Wolf tune.

Bob Dylan had to make this posting, and this one, while always timely, seems especially so again, with a new generation taking the lead.

Too often in Dylan’s shadow, Phil Ochs was a genius in his own right. It’s hard to pick one song, but this is one that those who don’t listen closely can misconstrue (kinda like “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen).

Richard and Mimi Fariña sang of (not) testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). A live version was recorded at the Newport Folk Festival. I have it on vinyl (the posthumous album “Memories” – beware – the CD version is not the same) but all other versions I can find are a vastly inferior recording, so this is the original studio version, since digitizing my album is beyond my capability. The album was a Christmas present from my sister, who heard it playing at a record store. She told me that if I didn’t want it, she’d keep it. No way was I going to let her have it. It grew on me quickly and I still have it 53(?) years later.

Antonin Dvořák showed that European classical composers can be influenced by the US, not just vice versa. And who can resist a piece that opens with viola?

Much is made of the American Dream. I grew up learning about America as a melting pot; a rich stew enlivened by new additions. But the longer the stew steeps, the smaller the influence of those additions. My kids learned a song in elementary school that told them “My town is not a melting pot/My town is a salad bowl” – that our identities are lost if they are melted together. Folksinger Charlie King taught me that America truly is a melting pot – “The scum rises to the top and those on the bottom get burned.” (One might conclude that we have to stir things up every now and then.)

We tend to forget that “America” includes a huge land mass stretching from about 70 degrees north latitude to about 55 degrees south latitude. The United States is but a small part of America. In Spanish there is a term for people from the US – “estadounidense”, roughly “United Statesian”. English lacks such a term which encourages us to forget the rest of America and think of ourselves as Americans and everyone else as Other. And we conveniently forget that people were already here when it was “discovered”. Not to mention that many think of American as meaning “light-skinned and of European origin”.

Whose version of that dream will be realized? Whose version is snuffed out too soon? Los Lobos asks the question.

Early readers will miss the next link. I forgot it yesterday when I got home. Leadbelly sang of hypocrisy and segregation in “Bourgeois Blues”.

Before hip hop there was Gil Scott-Heron, who taught us that “The Revolution Will Not be Televised”. Sitting back and watching is not enough.

Now that I’m home and can look things up, this list could keep growing. I realize women are under-represented. But I will stay true to the theme (this being a bike blog, not a music blog) of what I thought of and sang on today’s ride – with this one exception. What if we had a president who sang along with the Freedom Singers instead of retweeting White Power? (Oh yeah, we did once.)

I don’t know which should close – Gil Scott-Heron or Sam Cooke – but it’s gonna be Cooke. He started as a gospel singer, became famous to white folks as a pop singer, but I think this was his greatest achievement. It continues to send chills down my spine.

A real American – an oak tree on this morning’s ride

Author: halffastcyclingclub

We are a group of friends who ride bikes. Some of us are fast, some of us are slow, all of us are half-fast. In 2018, one of us rode coast to coast across the US. It was so much fun, he's doing it again in 2022! If we meet Sal Paradise, we'll let you know.

4 thoughts on “Patriotic Music”

  1. Oddly, I have no problem with many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence having been rich, landowning slave holders. I don’t think it could have been passed without them. Not all of them were rich slave-holders, of course, and the problem of slavery was already a bone of contention back then.

    Since I started writing historical fiction, I’ve learned through research that history is a lot different and more complex than we think. Every day now I reach that conclusion again.

    I don’t think many people read Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia” where he tries to contend with the question. I think he pretty well embodied the paradox — he detested slavery but didn’t free his slaves. I think we’re a little unkind to the past when we expect them to be better people than we are and less entrenched in their times than we are in ours. We’re pretty fucked up and so were they. One of the textbooks I taught from made the point that having had slavery isn’t the big news. Having abolished it is the big news. I kind of agree with that. That said, I’ve been shocked in the past month to learn how, in spite of the Civil Rights Amendment, laws have been written to protect the privileges of white people — men in particular. It’s sickening and I’m sickened. I’ve even psychically moved out of the town I once loved because of it.


    1. One person’s “paradox” is another person’s “hypocrisy”. I’ve read a lot about how we should judge people by their times and not ours. I don’t think it takes a giant leap to recognize that it is wrong to buy and sell human beings as property. An intelligent and compassionate person should have been able to figure that out 300 years ago. While Jefferson may have opposed slavery “in principle”, that didn’t stop him from bringing slaves to serve him at the White House. His writings certainly reflect ambivalence, though this is clear: “the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government.” As the historian Stephen Ambrose has written, “He was a man of principle (except for slaves, Indians, and women).”
      Do we tread equally lightly on the racists of our lifetime as long as their racism precedes the Voting Rights Act in 1965?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not going to judge Jefferson by the standards of today, and, at the same time, I don’t condone it. Among other reasons slavery has existed in this world longer than it has NOT existed. I suspect it still exists. I am repelled by their idea that they could define some people as human and others not, but we women only got the vote a hundred years ago and I’m pretty sure our humanity is still debated. The industrial revolution created yet another form of slavery. The exploitation of human beings is heinous no matter what it’s called. But honestly, it’s not something I’m going to get into an active debate over. I do appreciate Jefferson’s awareness of how much blacks would be hated by whites partly for the color of their skin and partly for the guilt whites bore for enslaving them in the first place. It’s just plain horrible.

        As for the racists of our time? I believe racism is ubiquitous to human nature which is, sadly, why we need laws against it. I heard the asshole who is the mayor of my town one afternoon at a memorial service I was attending. The people sitting next to me asked him how he liked being mayor. He said that he hated having to be politically correct. I wanted to pound his face in. I don’t see a problem with legislated respect since we’re so poor at offering genuine respect. “Political correctness” is just a way of saying “be kind.”

        Anyway, this has all shaken my belief that people are naturally good.

        Liked by 1 person

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