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Repost with Additions: 4th of July

Posted by purplemary54 on July 4, 2013

I suppose there’s some line of thinking out there, somewhere, that dictates I post a patriotic song today.  But I think most patriotic songs are crap, with the notable exceptions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”.  (Special note:  “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was based on the music to “John Brown’s Body” but the lyrics were changed by Julia Ward Howe to be a little more generic–and palatable to those who felt John Brown was an insane vigilante.)  So my Fourth of July songs are a little less didactic.

Today is not my favorite holiday.  Not that I’m not patriotic or anything.  I vote, pay my taxes, and don’t avoid jury duty.  I educate myself about politics.  I’ve read the Constitution (I wonder how many of those knee-jerk reactionaries can say that).  But any holiday in which people think it’s okay to mix alcohol and explosives is not a good one in my eyes.

There’s a couple of really good songs titled “4th of July,” although neither one is about the day.  Both are about relationships in tatters, people who have been blown up by their own emotional fireworks.  The more famous one is by X.  It features John Doe and Exene Cervenka at their best, Doe on the lead and Cervenka carrying the emotional counterpoint on the chorus.  A couple so far away from the world, so wrapped up in their own misery that they forgot what day it was.  “She’s waiting for me when I get home from work, oh but things just ain’t the same.  She turns out the lights and cries in the dark, and she won’t answer when I call her name.”  She’s depressed, he doesn’t know how to handle it.  Neither one of them knows how to walk away.

I might be a little more partial to Aimee Mann’s song of the same title.  It’s similar in that it’s about the sadness of a relationship that’s imploded on itself.  But Mann’s song is sung from the perspective of a woman left behind, steeping herself in her past, knowing “I ought to have gotten it gone.”  She can’t even confront the man who haunts her.  She just stares out the window, looking at fireworks, thinking “what a waste of gunpowder and sky.”  I can really identify with this character.  She fantasizes about her lover looking back with regret, something I’ve done more than once about exes.  “Oh, baby, I wonder if when you are older, someday, you’ll wake up and say ‘My god I should have told her!  What would it take?  But now here I am and the world’s gotten colder, and she’s got the river down which I sold her’.”

Both songs are about stagnation.  I feel a little bit that they could be about the same relationship, just from different perspectives at different points in time.  (They’re not even remotely related, obviously; I don’t even know if Mann ever heard the X song, which precedes hers by about six years.)  It’s interesting to imagine the guy in the X song finally getting the strength to pull himself out of the morass, but he leaves her behind to relive their past over and over every July 4th.  Songs tell stories, and sometimes those stories mesh.  Maybe there’s something about the 4th that makes a lot of people reflect on more than just America’s birthday.  Maybe all the fireworks set off more than just sparks in the sky.  I like the possibility of this narrative.  Of course, it needs a third part, one where the woman gets out of her emotional trap and maybe even gets some resolution from the man.  Maybe something like this.

Martina McBride’s song was originally suggested to me in a comment by the lovely Kina.  It’s not quite part of the narrative created by the other two, but it is a wonderful song about ending the terrible cycle of pain and abuse some relationships sink into.  In an ideal world, the woman in the song wouldn’t have been forced to resort to arson, murder, and suicide to escape.  But our world isn’t really ideal, in spite of the Founding Fathers’ hopes and dreams.  We live in an imperfect country, run by imperfect people who sometimes get things wrong.  That’s okay.  It doesn’t make the great experiment that is the United States any less valid.  We are a work in progress, getting closer to the ideal of liberty and justice for all every day.

Happy 4th to everyone here in the U.S.  Here’s hoping your pets survive the fireworks.

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2 Responses to “Repost with Additions: 4th of July”

  1. dan4kent said

    I must be living under a rock! I had never heard X or Mann. But I have now (thank you very much). While both caught my attention (for different reasons), I like the soulful bass line in Mann. In depth review. Your brain is sooo much fun to watch ‘in motion’. You’ve left me smarter than you found me. I appreciate the upgrade (ha!). Dan

    • Wow! I’m surprised you’d never heard of Mann, being a child of the 70s-80s, like me. She was the lead singer of ‘Til Tuesday (“Voices Carry” was their big hit). She’s one of those intensely personal singer-songwriters that I really get into; she did a great album called Whatever, collaborating with a couple of the guys from Squeeze on it. X was/is a local legend here in SoCal. Most of their stuff is a lot punkier–Los Angeles is an awesome place to start with them. I’m glad I could introduce you to them, both of whom I love, also for entirely different reasons.

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