Last evening, I attended an outdoor concert and fireworks show in honor of Independence Day in the United States of America. During intermission of the concert, popular music was played through the loudspeakers, and among the songs played were John Mellancamp’s “Pink Houses” (with its refrain Ain’t that America, for you and me, ain’t that America, home of the free), the Lenny Kravitz cover of the Guess Who’s “American Woman,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony:
- Mellancamp’s song is a bitter satire of the American dream, and implies that the reward for hard work in this country is little more than a little pink house with a freeway running through its front yard
- Guess Who is a Canadian band, and their 1970 song is a protest against America’s military action in Vietnam (I don’t need your war machines)
- Born down in a dead man’s town… The opening to Springstreen’s song is dark, and the lyrics get progressively bleaker, ending with Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go.
While I wasn’t offended by the choice of these songs for the event, I did think it showed astonishingly poor judgement. At first, anyway. But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I’m actually believing the playlist was brilliant.
There is a long history of dissent and protest in our country. The Constitution gives legal protection to citizens redressing their grievances. As the recent Broadway musical Hamilton demonstrates, Americans were arguing with each other, often violently, years before declaring its independence.
Internal conflict is part of our country. We argue in times of war, and peace. After engaging in a devastating civil war, we acted with haste to return the rebellious states to the union, all but guaranteeing they’d find some other way to disobey.
So as we celebrate America’s independence, it does seem right and good for us to think how our old crazy dreams just kinda came and went, to let our northern cousins tell us they don’t wanna see our face no more, to remember that many of our citizens have become long gone daddies. The freedom to give voice to our dissent is one of the aspects I admire most about my country.