True Patriot

On the Fourth, NPR aired people’s ideas of America’s most, well, American music … with the implicit thought of replacing the unsingable “Star Spangled Banner” with its mind-bending lyrics …
I actually like the SSB. I don’t have a problem w/ the fact that most of us probably have to screech or drop down an octave on “land of the freeeee.” And I like the crazy images the anthem conjures up, of a battle long ago, if not so far away.
But as I listened, I suddenly heard it all in a brand new way.
First, it turns out that America’s choice of most American musician is – The Boss. I can totally get down with that. As they discussed it, Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A” was blasting in the background.
A friend subsequently and tidily pointed out that a big part of the point of the U.S.A. is and has always been that we are NOT all born here. True! And important – but for me, the song is still about all of us. If we CLAIM the U.S.A., then it is ours. By claiming it as our homeland, we BECOME born here.
That’s not to discount the pain and toil of being an immigrant. In truth, we are ALL immigrants – as I mentioned in OBJECTS OF OUR AFFECTION — except for the “native Americans,” who mostly simply called themselves “the people” in their own languages. And I believe we carry that longing for home, that vague, unarticulated sense of displacement, in our psyches.
Perhaps that is why we find it so difficult to get along. Are we all still separate tribes, deluded into thinking that OUR version of America can, will, and should prevail?
Just a thought, as yoga diva Connie Fernandez used to say as she coaxed us into headstands.
Yeah. What this country really needs about now is to be stood on its head so its brains can readjust themselves, what’s left of them.
But I digress.
Here’s the thing: It would be fine with me if we ensconced Bruce’s music right up there as an alternative beginning to baseball games, in lieu of the national anthem or “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful.”
But there’s more. Close behind the Boss in people’s appreciation of TRUE national anthems was MARVIN GAYE’s “Star Spangled Banner” in 1983, with homage to Hendrix and Feliciano.
Listening to Gaye, I heard the words in a whole new way:
“Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light … ?”
Can you see – Is the flag even still THERE?
And DOES it still wave – prevail – over the land of the free? ARE we still the land of the free, the home of the brave? Because if we are not – every single one of us – tending our democracy with love and courage, then the experiment has failed.
Gaye, Hendrix, Feliciano – all men of color – slow us down to reveal the metaphor: This national anthem of ours is not about some almost forgotten battle against the Brits in 1814. It’s about US, right NOW.
United we stand. Divided we fall. In a global economy, that is trickier than ever for a single nation, never mind all of humanity, but like it or not, that is our challenge.
United we stand, one tribe, indivisible – NOW.

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