Progress: America’s Obsession Leads to Bad Politics, Good Music
In my leftward-leaning, coastal bubble, I am wary to exclaim it aloud, but on the Fourth of July, I must say: I’m proud to be an American.
Even as I type the words, I can hear a faint whisper of a didgeridoo in the distance, which can only mean an action council at the local co-op. Through my window, I can see feathers ruffling on the heads of the long-hairs that live down my block. I smell the distinct scent of patchouli growing ever stronger.
So before my neighbors get their sarongs in a bunch, let me explain myself.
I am not proud that our country continues to engage in two endless and costly wars.
I am not proud that we still do not have true equality for all races, genders and sexual orientations.
I am not proud of the dark blotches in our history; the fact that our “destiny” meant the massacre of a people, that our wealth was built on forced labor, that ours was the only country to drop an atomic bomb.
I am not proud of many things about our nation; we are far from a perfect people.
However, we are not all bad, which is something my leftward-leaning compatriots sometimes forget.
America may be responsible for the SUV and the Shake Weight, but we also birthed the airplane, the internet and the burrito.
We are an exceptionally inventive people; our footprint will last well past the moment the sun sets on this empire.
The Egyptians had their pyramids, the Greeks and Romans their writing and the English had the snooty way they drank their tea.
When the United States is remembered it will be for our music; jazz, blues and all the incredible variations stemmed from those roots.
So when you’re grilling heaps of meat and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon today, remember: the music you play is just as good of a way to show your American pride.
With so much more access to music, styles progressed at a faster rate than any century before. America is a land of progress through fusion — it is our immigrant society that has led to the diversity of thought and culture that defines our nation.
Because of new technology like the record and the radio, blues and jazz could spread around the country. Once-regional music meshed and morphed into new styles — and thus, blues birthed country-western, rock ‘n’ roll, soul and eventually hip-hop.
So, on the Fourth of July, the day our forefathers thumbed their noses at Gorgeous George on his throne across the pond, I think it is time to change our nation’s anthem. “The Star Spangled Banner” is a wonderful ditty and it’s held up to the test of time, but who really remembers the War of 1812, anyway?
I think a better representation of all that is great about our country is the song “Hound Dog.”
Originally, the blues track sung by “Big Mama” Thorton was about a man who claimed to be high-class but wasn’t nothing but a dog.
Quickly after Thorton’s release, country-western versions were performed and pressed and within three years, Freddie Bell and the Bellboys had recorded another version with more pop-friendly lyrics.
A year after that, a hillbilly named Elvis Presley played Bell’s version on national television on The Milton Berle Show.
When Elvis released his own recording of “Hound Dog”, the song was #1 on the charts for 11 weeks.
However, while using someone else’s creation for personal gain is extremely American — here’s to you, Mr. Zuckerberg — Elvis’s version is not the one I want as the anthem.
Instead, a version recorded by a Welsch singer whose idol was Mr. Presley perfectly captures what our country means.
That a boy from Wales named Thomas John Woodward can immigrate to America and become a crooner in Las Vegas — a mid-desert metropolis built on nothing more than consumerism, decadence and sin — brings tears of joy to my eyes. This is the American Dream in a post-white picket fence generation.
That Tom Jones, a man from the UK, would cover a hick from Tennessee’s version of a song played by a couple fellows from Philadelphia who had ripped off the track recorded by a woman from Alabama is why America is what it is.
It is this brand of unrelenting progress that has led to all that is great and terrible about the United States. It is this desire, more than any other trait, that defines our nation.
But during Independence Day 2011, in a year when Rapture and Flood are making it hard to celebrate, remember: for all our faults, we are not all bad.
Regardless of political leanings, all Americans should take pride in our music.
So I say, God bless America and the fact that our obsession with progress and fusion has led to some of the greatest jams in history. Roll over Beethoven; it’s America’s day.
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