At a time when our supreme lawmakers see fit to equate money with speech, and the very foundations of democracy are sliced and diced to further political agendas, it seems like a good time to remember some of the music that speaks to my idea of patriotism.
It is, after all, our nation’s birthday. So, in no particular order, here’s my July 4th top ten:
America, Simon and Garfunkel – The pastoral and personal meet in Paul Simon’s meditation on two anonymous souls “off to look for America.” Famed be damned – it’s the hitchhikers and bus riders that weave this country’s fabric.
Ballad of the Green Berets, Sgt. Barry Sadler – This song appeared in the middle of an unpopular war to remind us of courage, sacrifice and valor on the field of battle – though too many didn’t care to listen.
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Bruce Springsteen – “The fireworks are hailing over Little Eden tonight, forcing the light into all these stoned-out faces left stranded on this Fourth of July” – Bruce is our poet laureate.
Fourth of July, X – A relationship in its dying throes is revived amidst the fireworks, viewed from a tenement stoop. Unity and forgiveness survive, however briefly, beneath the bright night sky.
Independence Day, Martina McBride – A dark tale of the war at home – crime and retribution, a funeral pyre and a chorus of “let freedom ring” – it’s not for the squeamish.
Freedom Fighters, Utopia – This song speaks to the inevitability of conflict in defense of our democratic ideals. “Clap your hands/raise your voice… some people may hide/they can’t stand the noise/but we’re freedom fighters and we’ve got no choice.”
Volunteers, Mark Erelli – LIke the best protest music, this song’s message is shaped by the story it tells. A “casual soldier,” thrust into the maelstrom of an easy war turned to long slog, doesn’t regret his choice. He simply wonders, as do we, whether it was worth it.
This Is Our Country, John Mellencamp – Lost in this truck-hawking anthem is a pithy, profound thought: “There’s room enough here for science to live/and there’s room enough here for religion to forgive.”
I Am A Patriot, Little Steven – With this lost 80’s gem, Van Zandt reminds us that ultimately, we stand or fall together.
Chimes of Freedom, Bob Dylan – No one distills our essence better than Mr. Zimmerman. Though it’s hard to pick one song, this celebrates liberty perfectly.
On to live music:
Thursday: Shawn Mullins, Colburn Park (Lebanon) – With 12 albums under his belt, (including his latest, the well-received “Honeydew”), this singer-songwriter deserves better than to be remembered as a one hit wonder. The name-dropping “Lullaby” got a Grammy nomination, but it was his work with the Thorns, the supergroup he formed with Pete Droge and Matthew Sweet, which impressed me most.
Friday: Pete Merrigan’s All-Stars, Anchorage– There’s something happening in every town today, but this July 4th Pete’s the hardest working man in show biz, with a gig at the Lebanon Power House in the morning, an afternoon wedding, and this appearance with his big band while the fireworks fly. The show in the sky is scheduled to begin at 9:30. These appearances are always special for Pete, who usually performs solo.
Saturday: Mad River Music Festival, Bundy Center – Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s likened this all-day-in-a-tent show to the halcyon days of San Francisco’s Family Dog Ballroom. The show features edgy jazz-rock (Raq), reggae (Kevens) and dub (Dubtronix). There are 10 bands in all, many of them from the local area. The family-friendly day also includes lots of local food, crafts and social awareness activities.
Sunday: Andrew & Gail Jennings, Saint-Gaudens – The violin/piano duo perform classical works and debut “Song Without Words.” The Kay Rhie piece, commissioned by Andrew Jennings, draws from Korean modernist poet Kim Sowol’s “Azaleas,” taking tonal and rhythmic cues from the speech rhythm of two different language groups – one stress-timed and the other, syllable-timed. The Sunday afternoon shows, which run all summer, carry on a tradition that began with Cornish Colony founder Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Tuesday: Donna Summer, Meadowbrook – In her early days, Boston native Summer sang backup for Three Dog Night and recorded the hippie-trip “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses” before breaking through with the heavy-breathing “Love To Love You Baby.” She just released “Crayons,” her first album of new material in 17 years. But like most blue-chip performers, she’ll likely play it safe and stick to hits like “She Works Hard For The Money” and “Hot Stuff.”
Wednesday: Kurtis Kinger, Elixir – Day two of the River City Blues Festival, which culminates Saturday with a big outdoor bash featuring harp hero James Montgomery and the Killborn Alley Blues Band. Kinger plays Delta harmonica along with a mean guitar. His music is streaming on yellowhousemedia.com – his “Phone Don’t Ring” has been number one for two weeks running on the site’s Top 10.