My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

July 27-28, 2019: 21st Century American Anthems

[On July 22, 1893, Wellesley Professor Katharine Lee Bates first composed the words to what would become “America the Beautiful.” So this week I’ve AmericanStudied “America” and other national songs, leading up to this special weekend post on 21C nominees for new anthems!]
Five recent songs that I would nominate as new national anthems (with a bit on why if I haven’t already written about them at length in hyperlinked posts):
1)      Gary Clark Jr., “This Land” (2019)
2)      The Killers, “Land of the Free” (2019)
3)      Halsey, “New Americana” (2015):  The song that launched Halsey’s evolving career offers only a couple specific case studies in the “we” it defines as “the new Americana,” and they’re interesting if a bit obvious (a self-loathing young socialite, a gay football player). Instead, it’s the two lines in the chorus (along with that titular identification) that I find most interesting as a succinct representation of a 21st century national identity: “High on legal marijuana/Raised on Biggie and Nirvana.” Not sure exactly what that adds up to, but like all anthems, it’s a powerfully symbolic statement of who we are.
4)      John Legend and Common, “Glory” (2015): Even if this song were just what it seems to be, the musical accompaniment to Ava DuVernay’s wonderful film Selma, that would be enough to merit inclusion on this list: Black History is American History, as a certain AmericanStudier has been known to argue. But I’m not sure any lines better sum up where we are and where we’re trying to get, and what role music itself can play, more than these in Common’s second verse: “We sing, our music is the cuts that we bleed through/Somewhere in the dream we had an epiphany/Now we right the wrongs in history/No one can win the war individually/It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people's energy/Welcome to the story we call victory/The comin' of the Lord, my eyes have seen the glory.”
5)      Steve Earle, “Amerika v. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do) (2008): It will surprise precisely no one who knows me that most of this list has been pretty optimistic, or at least represent expressions of a critical optimism that envisions a more perfect union. That seems to me to be a pretty good goal for a national anthem; but at the same time, I’d have to have been born yesterday not to recognize the concurrent need for some cynicism and more overt critique of our present moment. Well, Earle’s pissed-off anthem delivers those in spades, from its biting opening lines (“Look at ya/Yeah, take a look in the mirror now tell me what you see/Another satisfied customer in the front of the line for the American dream”) to its titular definition (“Four score and a hundred and fifty years ago/Our forefathers made us equal as long as we can pay/Yeah, well maybe that wasn't exactly what they was thinkin'/Version six-point-oh of the American way”). So let’s sing songs of hope, but ones of righteous anger too, as we seek new anthems for our 21st century American moment.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Other national songs you’d highlight?

PPS. After I had scheduled this, I got the excellent suggestion on Twitter to include Ada Limon's poem "A New National Anthem"!

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