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

4th of July

Notice how this is the only holiday we refer to specifically by its date? Why is that? 5 de Mayo is also referred to that way, but not in English.

So here I am, in the great and sprawling west. 4th of July out here makes me think of US history, westward expansion, and manifest destiny. If you have 10 minutes to spare (9:15 to be exact), here is a better history lesson than I had in school – more accurate and more entertaining to boot. “Temporarily Humboldt County” by the Firesign Theater. Listen to it. I’ll wait.

 

Some years ago I spent the 4th at the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore. I took some great pictures but, due to software incompatibility, I may not see them again. (Don’t ya like how we were sold the idea of digital photography so we could keep our pictures forever with no need for restoration? I have 100 year old photos of my house but can’t recover 12 year old digital photos.

The memorial was begun in 1948. There is no estimated completion date. It is all privately funded. For comparison, Mount Rushmore took 14 years to carve and Crazy Horse’s face is 50% larger than the Mt Rushmore faces.

from crazyhorsememorial.org

from Atlas Obscura – model of finished sculpture (foreground), actual sculpture (background)

On the porch of our lodge in Deadwood, the evening of July 3, 2006, my son improvised a mournful viola solo which became the basis for the adagio movement of his “String Trio in G”. He completed the movement for a summer composition project. It was dedicated to one of his academic mentors, Ted Widerski, who died while we were on that trip. That project moved him to alter his career plan from composition to orchestral conducting. Next month I’ll have a link to a live performance of his orchestra, so you can see where that led. If you can’t wait that long, here is a performance from a few years ago of Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915”.

Aside to the conductor: Did you know you were born on the anniversary of Samuel Barber’s death?

In July of 1976 (the US Bicentennial) I rode the Sparta to Elroy bike trail. I saw a sight that seemed to embody the spirit of the US to me. There, in the trail, side-by-side, were two vending machines – one for Coke and one for Pepsi. I took a picture that was to be the start of a photo essay called “Freedom is…”. I never completed the project because satire became superfluous the day I saw a two page centerspread ad in the daily paper. There were red, white, and blue bunting across the top of the page, stars sprinkled (liberally?) about, and the giant header “The Great American Buycentennial“. I don’t remember what they were selling. For those who were around in 1976 you likely remember the grotesque attempts to cash in.

I’ll leave you with one last bit of Americana. While I may have quibbles with the tempo, who am I to question the New York Philharmonic?

They don’t call it Wind River for nothin’

We spent the day crossing and recording the Wind River, riding through its valley. Here is my friend Keith’s song “Wind River Crossing”

We rode out of Dubois with the same 25 mph tailwind with which we entered. At our first water stop the wind shifted and we spent the middle half of the ride pushing through a strong headwind.

We entered Riverton to darkening skies and increasing winds. It is blowing about 40 mph now. Pitching tents has been fun. The sun is out but the wind shows no sign of abating.

This was supposed to be a recovery ride between yesterday’s 17 mile climb and Thursday’s steep climb to over 9600 feet and 94 total miles. We were supposed to be riding downhill with a tailwind. C’est la vie.

Early on we rode through beautiful red rock canyons.

We spent a few hours riding toward an isolated butte. I kept wondering when I should stop for a picture. Shortly after I did so, I came upon a historical marker.

The butte is Crowheart Butte, so called because, after defeating the Crow in a battle for the surrounding land, the Shoshone chief is said to have displayed the heart of one of the Crow warriors on the point of his lance. The town of Crowheart is nearby.

For an alternative view of this ride, see Terrysspokereport.blogspot.com. While we are all on the same route, we each have our own ride.