It is Independence Day tomorrow, a day of parties, fireworks and honest or not-so-honest patriotism throughout the US. I thought about doing a really obvious collection of patriotic tunes about how great it is to be an ‘American’, but after thinking about this a while, I settled on a different sort of list this week- songs that hint at the diversity of the US people. After all, every person living in Fort Collins, Colorado or the US more generally is part of this grand and dynamic entity, the United States of America. Part of what makes this country worth supporting is the fact that it encompasses so many different people, perspectives and lifestyles in the same country. There are playlists aplenty on spotify for all those standard patriotic July 4th tunes, and some are really good, but this here is a snapshot of some portion of the US as I know it.
1. Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe- “Birthright”
Prior to statehood, Colorado was the home of three major groups of native people, the Cheyenne, the Arapahoe and the Utes. These people were gradually squeezed off their lands onto shrinking reservations, and there are still some small patches of reservation land along the southern Colorado border for the Utes. The majority of the people descended from these nations either do not live in Colorado, or they live alongside all the rest of us. In southern Colorado many of the native Hispanic communities claim ancestors from one or more of theses nations.
2. Three Dog Night- “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)”
In a student town like Fort Collins or Boulder, or in any city there is a subculture that has this seedy underworld feeling to it. Actually, contrary to popular belief, this subculture is not synonymous with the music scene, though I do get to see fringes of this world where it intersects with the music scene. I doubt that this subculture ever really goes away, but in times like this when jobs and security are more fairy-tale than reality for so many, the hedonistic despair that is a dominant undercurrent of this world probably resonates with a much broader range of people.
3. Elephant Revival- “Lexington”
4. Kenny Rogers- “Making Music For Money”
This is the conundrum facing most musicians and creative people more generally, and in past generations the ‘American Dream’ seemed a reasonable goal worth trading some portion of one’s artistic integrity for, but now that money is pooling in the overseas bank accounts of top level corporate executives rather than being distributed as wages back into the economy artists of all kinds seem happier keeping their artistic integrity and living in an informal economy largely outside the money economy of the rest of society.
5. Cary Morin- “War, So Much Trouble”
6. Lucca Feliciano- “Guantanamera”
This is more properly a song for Cinco de Mayo, except that in places like where I grew up, in southern Colorado, the native people of the area included quite a few native Spanish-speakers whose ancestors without leaving that land were Mexican citizens. In this part of the US, Mexico is part of our history, and thus this song was part of the musical background I grew up with.
7. Carrie Nation & the Speakeasy- “The Speakeasy Solution”
8. Sting- “Desert Rose”
The Middle East has been tied to the US financially and otherwise for many decades, and yet this part of our collective heritage still makes many people in the US uneasy. Nonetheless, there is a noticeable and growing population of Americans with ancestors in the Middle East, and the events and culture of that region have a much greater impact on the US than most Americans understand. This song is one of the few that managed to filter into general popularity in the US recently while drawing on the music of the Middle East.
9. Hayley Westenra- “Shenandoah”
10. Patrick Dethlefs- “Another Colorado Song”
11. Dixie Chicks- “Goodbye Earl”
As in most places on the planet, the way we find solutions to persistent problems (like abusive husbands) may not always rely on the law, especially when the law has proven itself unable or unwilling to provide a real and lasting solution. Scratch the surface of many families in the US, and you find a plethora of such stories, maybe not murdered psychopathic spouses, but certainly stories that do not resemble the nice clean-cut families we project to the rest of the world. Laws and marketing assume we are all more or less the same, after all, even though as humans we all lead messy, constantly changing lives.
12. John McCutcheon, Corey Harris- “Talking Union”
13. Josh Turner- “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”
14. Jason Aldean- “Country Boy’s World”
It’s not all cities and suburbia in the US, and one of my favorite parts of Colorado is a lot more like the world Jason Aldean is singing about in this song. I remember some lovely date nights out under the stars listening to grand choruses of frogs, hearing the small neighborhood packs of coyotes off in the distance.
15. Brad Paisley, Kieth Urban- “Start a Band”
16. Linkin Park- “Wisdom, Justice & Love/ Iridescent”
One of the peculiarities of being an American is the notion that the US has to weigh in on everything going on everywhere, getting involved in every conflict and fixing every problem on the planet. The US is big, and has a disproportionately huge economy, but the people living here are no more brilliant than the people anywhere else. we have our share of geniuses, of course, but the world’s problems are quite a lot to feel on one’s shoulders even for those geniuses. Especially with the news broadcasting the latest terrible tragedies from around the world every day, it is easy for Americans (and probably anyone else living with such ‘helpful’ media) to feel hopelessly overburdened even before they get to thinking about the many problems we have to deal with in our own communities.
17. Michael Jackson- “Man in the Mirror”
The other side to this is that we as a planet have an increasingly global community alongside our own local communities, and if we all passed off most problems as not ‘ours’ to deal with, the world would be a colder, lonelier place. Americans are fed so much information about the tragedies and ongoing troubles in other countries that it is easy for us to find ourselves overseas or otherwise drawn into finding solutions and making the world better, alongside similarly helpful people from every other country. We grow up with this notion that we ought to help people if given the opportunity to do so, and many Americans consider it their duty to seek out such opportunities to help.
18. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers- “I Won’t Back Down”
19. Bearfoot- “Homeless Waltz”
Of course, we do have poor people, homeless people, crazy people and lonely people in our own communities, and it is far less glamorous to help these local members of our own communities, when we could be off helping people in Haiti or Mexico or Eastern Europe. One of the biggest challenges, I think, for all of us modern people of any country, is to not forget our local communities when we are inundated with information from the broader global community. I love that I can chat with people from around the world on facebook, and I hope that we as a planet can keep improving our global networks to create a stronger planetary community of amazing humans. But, we are only as strong as our own neighborhoods, and if we can remember to look out for each other, so that the people on our own streets don’t fall through the cracks of our society, we will all be in a better position to create the better world we want for the planet as a whole.
20. Kool & the Gang, Eumir Deodato- “Celebration”
But, enough philosophizing for one day. Tomorrow is a holiday, and while our problems won’t just be polite and vanish for the day, it is good to celebrate the good things we have, even while knowing we still have a lot to work on once the party is over.