Sunday, July 03, 2016

Some U.S. of American songs ...

The Star-Spangled Banner has its critics, but it's the national anthem I want to hear when there's a need for a national anthem. And I like Whitney Houston's effortlessly glorious performance at Super Bowl XXV during 1991 best. It sets the standard.

But America The Beautiful's pretty great, too. Here's Beyonce's abbreviated version at the 2008 Obama inaugural concert.

I have a secret passion for Kate Smith --- I'm old enough to remember her sailing like a great ship under full sail onto black and white television stages to perform "God Bless America." It tends to be scorned by some, but part of that's because the opening lines usually are dropped, causing it to lose context. And truth be told, there's not much song there. It's very short.

Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" is a favorite, too, and it's longer. Did you know that Guthrie wrote it because he was sick and tired of hearing Kate Smith bellow "God Bless America?"

Here's a version, again from the Obama inaugural concert and featuring Pete Seeger and The Boss. Lyrics thought too subversive to be performed during early recordings --- when U.S. of Americans were looking under their beds nightly for communists --- have been restored here.

Speaking of Bruce Springsteen --- How about that "Born in the U.S.A.?"

And Neil Diamond's "America," celebrating the immigrants, voluntary and forced, from whom descend all of us who are not native.

Although not considered a "patriotic" song --- Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans" is among the most likely of the bunch to get stuck in my head and roll on for ever. This is my favorite version, featuring Goodman himself. Diagnosed while in college with leukemia, he lived with it until it killed him during 1984 at age 36. He received a posthumous Grammy for the song during 1985.

And his widow, Nancy, wrote of him later: "Basically, Steve was exactly who he appeared to be: an ambitious, well-adjusted man from a loving, middle-class Jewish home in the Chicago suburbs, whose life and talent were directed by the physical pain and time constraints of a fatal disease which he kept at bay, at times, seemingly by willpower alone . . . Steve wanted to live as normal a life as possible, only he had to live it as fast as he could . . . He extracted meaning from the mundane."

And that's a good mix I think for an aspirational nation like ours, a work in progress, imperfect in many ways, that's still trying to figure out how to live up to the guiding principle expressed in the national motto adopted by its founders: E pluribus unum!

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