Illustration by Kristi SimmonsI assume I wasn't the only student who in the winter of 1991 sang along, sitting cross-legged on standard gray public school carpet, to Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," belting out the "Proud to be an American..." chorus along with my third-grade classmates. Iraq had invaded Kuwait and President Bush The First, looking sternly through his Dwight Schrute-esque glasses said, "This aggression will not stand," and so I pinned a yellow ribbon on my backpack with no idea where exactly Kuwait could be found on a map, and belted along with Mr. Greenwood. And I liked that song, too.
With the Fourth of July this weekend, we're not only celebrating our right to ignite incendiary devices (Thank you, Bend City Council), but it's an annual chance to unleash upon collective ear of your neighborhood barbecue your favorite patriotic, nationalistic and/or songs that merely include "America" in the title, including but not limited to the aforemenionted Greenwood hit. If you need some help compiling your play list, here are a few pointers. Again, many of these cuts have little or no connection to the signing of the Declaration of Independence or the celebration thereof, but who cares, right? A real song about the Fourth of July would largely be centered on hot dogs, sun burns and paid vacation, so let's not get too carried away people.
Join us in lighting a Chinese-made sparkler, cracking a Belgian-owned Budweiser, and hitting play on your Shanghai-manufactured iPod with the following songs:
"American Pie" - Don McLean: It's a right of passage in the rock fan world to memorize all eight-plus minutes of this 1971 classic. Anyone knows that. There's really nothing America-related in this song, other than the repetition of the phrase of "American Pie" as well as references to both Chevys and levies, neither of which have fared well this decade. The song does include the line "Lennon read a book on Marx," which is so violently anti-democratic and pro-Beatle that it may cause your inner Limbaugh to lust after a cheeseburger and oxycontin smoothie.
"I am a Patriot" - Jackson Browne: What? A leftie singing about patriotism? WTF? This is nonetheless a pretty inspiring cut, even if it does meander into the realm of lions and such toward the end. The Eddie Vedder version is worth checking out as well.
"America, F**k Yeah!" - From the motion picture Team America: World Police: Probably the best tribute to the land of the red, white and blue one is ever likely to hear, this didn't make it onto the airwaves. Why? The song's 37 F-bombs probably had something to do with that. But this song touches on a myriad of American attributes...like baseball, McDonalds and...uh...slavery.
"Living in America" - James Brown: Rocky IV, anyone? Too bad James probably didn't remember his appearance in that movie, if you know what I mean. (If you don't, YouTube "James Brown Drunk.") Still, the Godfather goes all Uncle Sam on your ass in this one, with grand results. I've always thought that if Apollo Creed wouldn't have wasted all that energy dancing to this song before taking on Ivan Drago he probably wouldn't have gotten killed by that stupid Soviet.
"America" - Neil Diamond: "There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't," said Bill Murray in What About Bob?, the landmark 1991 film also starring Richard Dreyfuss. Well, a lot of Americans love Neil Diamond as well as this tribute to America's many immigrants.
"Born in the USA" - Bruce Springsteen: Who knew a song about the horrors of Vietnam could turn into a Republican theme song? But hey, if you don't listen to it carefully, the Boss seems to be rocking a flag-waving, bandana-tightening anthem.