America Needs Its Sing-Along Song Back
(With thanks to our friend, EPU, for suggesting this title in a 2012 article.)
“God Bless America” was written by Irving Berlin in 1918, and revived in 1938 with war looming, and made famous by Kate Smith, whose 1938 radio rendition was a national hit. (See if you can spot Ronald Reagan. If you’re over 60, hankies are optional.)
A prayer actually, written by a Jew, really, you can imagine why it has fallen out of favor with the modern anti-religious in-crowd these days, the new capitalist-globalists sheepishly tagging along to keep their meal tickets intact.
Interestingly, and why this should be of interest to people both encouraged and threatened by the enthusiasm levels of Trump crowds today, is that an amateur led a singing of this song at this soccer match several years ago, and this is what happened next.
Glenn Beck once commissioned a batch of songs to be written by some pretty well known artists, and played them for several weeks as promos to an event he was sponsoring.
Now, not to demean the writer-performers, or the classic “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood (from which they all seemed to be derived) they were sappy. I sort of wish Lee had broken the mold after he recorded that song, for those songs pointed to the problem I’m talking about here. They all seemed directed at people who would more likely hold hands around a campfire before turning in, vespers, than march off to face down union thugs on the National Mall, humming “This Land is Your Land” which Woody Guthrie wrote in 1939 because he didn’t like the religious overtones of “God Bless America”. Tne left coopted my genre, folk music, in the 1960s the very same way, sending that generation off into a drugged up stupor either singing “Kumbaya” or “In a Gadda Da Vida”.
I can’t see anyone standing on their tippy-toes and bellowing out a chorus of any of those songs at a sporting event, or whistling the refrain while walking down the street…except maybe past a graveyard.
We have solemn patriotic hymns out the wazoo. What we don’t have, and need, are rousing songs of unity…with a kick. Songs which say “Clear the room and I’ll fight ye all, I’m so damned proud of who I am.”
Believe it or not, the National Anthem used to be that way, for it was one of the few songs we all hear while gathered in a large assembly some place. We were first taught it in school, along with “My Country Tis of Thee”, “American the Beautiful” and those songs were even in the Methodist Hymnal, which we’d sing every Memorial Day Sunday. (not sure Methodists still do that.) And back in the day, everyone sang it, they just didn’t listen to the Marching Tiger Band play it at the 50-yard line.
I’ve always been jealous of the East Europeans, who stopped loving their country while under communism, so instead loved the Rodina, their mythical Motherland, Narodna, doubly so. They seemed to have a whole battery of songs everyone knew, from great grandpa down to the kindergartners, none of them showing any hesitation in singing along whenever the occasion posed itself.
When a whole roomful of patrons in a restaurant can break into a folk song everyone knew, the words didn’t matter, it was patriotic just by their singing it together. The act itself was patriotic. I puffed up just watching it. It could have been “Roll Me Over in the Clover” for all I know (another one I’m sure you all know) and it wouldn’t have mattered, especially when sung in Serbian. Who can forget when the French broke into “La Marseillaise” in Rick’s Cafe in “Casablanca” singing down the Germans’ Yiddish version of “Der Fuhrer’s Face?”
When I was growing up we knew popular songs from three generations back, although, for the life of me I can’t say why. Why did my mother (born 1924) sing songs from the Gay 90’s? Was it Mitch Miller? The radio? Even as the music business was being divided up into age brackets with the advent of radio, phonograph records and the juke box, these old songs had legs well into the 1960s.
We don’t have that anymore, and with kids walking around strapped to ear-phones (not the other way around) we aren’t likely to. I can go to YouTube and watch/hear all the great rousing moments in music, as I’ve just shared with you here (above), and share vicariously with the crowd as they stand and sing, send it my friends, and get back all the oooohhh’s and aaahhhh’s, but in the end, from the listener’s point of view, it’s still a solo event. There is no shared history from yesterday, nor any expectation of a shared history tomorrow. There is no fraternal exchange that transcends, carrying today over into tomorrow.
Helluva way to build a culture, with no shared history.
Since the Democrats haven’t come up with a national fight song that the LGBT or BLM will approve, and since the corporatist-capitalists have come over to their side, they can’t even drudge up all the “Joe Hill” union songs of old, that Bernie used to sing around the campfire.
But we have one, and maybe one more generation to pass it on.
Maybe Trump could find a spirited version and put it on YouTube. Kids understand enthusiasm better than most words anyway. And enthusiasm is always catching.