An Alternative Fourth of July Playlist That Reflects a Unique Mood — LISTEN
Ah yes, the Fourth of July. A time of freedom, fireworks, hot dogs, patriotism, above ground pools, apple pie, and any other American cliches you can think of. But whether you're making it to the beach for the weekend or just watching fireworks at home, there's one thing you likely won't be able to escape: terrible music in the name of patriotism. If one thing is true about Fourth of July weekend, it's that no matter where you go, you'll inevitably hear some Toby Keith or Miley Cyrus's "Party in the U.S.A."
But the worst thing about these songs isn't even that they're terrible (and they're not even all terrible — I'll be the first person to listen to some "Party in the U.S.A."). It's that they simplify what it means to be an American. Being an American doesn't always mean proudly standing up with a flag waving in the breeze behind you. It often feels like being disappointed, of feeling like you don't belong. It's frustrating and it's complicated yet somehow, we fight through in the hopes that things will be better tomorrow.
So here are some songs about the "real" America, not just the one that exists for shiny, happy, blonde families with Golden Retrievers.
Bruce Springsteen, "Born in the U.S.A."
Alright, so this is one of the songs you'll most likely end up hearing this weekend. But besides being a classic song, "Born in the U.S.A." is uniquely American both because of its lyrics and the fact that they're so often misunderstood. Listen past the chanting chorus and the insistent drums and you'll hear a song about feeling powerless and angry at a dead end.
Robert Ashley Opera Trilogy
If you weren't aware of the passing of the great modern American composer Robert Ashley this past March, this is the perfect time to get to know his work. Specifically, the trilogy of operas Atalanta, Perfect Lives, and Now Eleanor's Idea. These works depict several American themes: the journey to and across America, the agriculture, the architecture, the genealogy, and the religion of our country. His pieces capture the surreal mundanity of modern American life: a world of supermarkets and banks and shopping malls and a persistent feeling of unhappiness, the feeling that something is not quite right.
Fatima al Qadiri, "Star Spangled"
Much of Fatima al Qadiri's work plays with perceptions of place, both personal and impersonal; her debut album, Asiatisch, reworks Western perceptions of China in pop culture. It is fitting, then, that the Kuwaiti artist would create a song for her current country for Adult Swim, which will be released for free download on the Fourth of July. Her statement says it all: “‘Star-Spangled’ is dedicated to American national nightmares. On one hand, dark dreams of suburban serial killers and mangled hitch-hike heads. On the other, a false hope of national greatness cooked by covert agendas.”
Robbie Basho, "Rocky Mountain Raga"
Do yourself a favor this Fourth of July: go outside and listen to some American Primitive music. John Fahey, Robbie Basho, even some of their newer descendants like William Tyler and Daniel Bachman (of course, "Rocky Mountain Raga" from Basho's Visions of the Country is most appropriate in name). Listen to some beautiful, delicate guitar picking and let it enhance the natural, diverse beauty of this strange place we live in.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, "This Land is Your Land"
Everyone knows "This Land as Your Land," although not all know it as the protest song Woody Guthrie sang. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings version not only leaves in the last two crucial verses that are so often left out, but it also has a dark, soulful tone that matches the uncertainty of the lyrics.