Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth

On this, the birthday of my mother country, it seemed appropriate to write something about the US of A. I’ve talked to a number of expats about how being gone has made them more patriotic, and this is definitely the case for me. It’s quite obvious really; you leave somewhere and then you realize how much you love it. But for me, a lot of my love for America is for musical reasons. You may ask, ‘Wait, what about freedom, democracy and diversity?’ It’s all related, just wait.

There’s a lot of rhetoric from politicians about how certain inspiring events "could happen in no other country on earth." Often I disagree, as rags to riches stories are far from uniquely American. But I do think the musical cornucopia within our borders is truly special.

America is mostly responsible for the birth of rock, American country western/folk, jazz, hip hop, soul, modern musical theater and infinitely more subgenres. Even in classical music, American composers have cut out a special crazy niche from Charles Ives to John Cage to Philip Glass. This means more to me than simply the fact that there’s a wide variety of music. It’s meaningful because American society has been a place for this multitude of different musical art forms to flourish and build a tradition.

In America, music is a central part of all socioeconomic, cultural and geographic groups. Maybe it’s a descendant of the freedom of speech in our constitution but it’s crucial for us to understand how much these creators are supported by the public, as there have never been royal courts to support the composers as there were in Europe. Even with all the negative types saying ‘Music just isn’t what it used to be’ there will absolutely always be amazing original music coming from America. Where there's truly innovative art being made, support will follow. And we are a nation that loves to innovate.

There are deep traditions of music from every corner of the globe but I would like to argue that there may not be another single country with as many musical streams flowing at all times. This is partially a product of America’s cultural diversity, and with today’s DIY possibilities thanks to our Sillicon Valley technology wizards, more and more talented musicians have the opportunity to put their music into the world. 

But I believe the key to the strength of American music comes from our unique history as a land of determined strugglers. The first settlers were escaping religious persecution while the founding fathers were escaping despotic laws imposed by the British. The Civil War freed the slaves while the Civil Rights Movement empowered the oppressed African Americans to seek equal treatment. As Americans, it’s natural to embrace those who stand up against the status quo, and music often goes hand in hand with this sort of mentality. Music is a central part of that wild passion that is the American Dream.

Here are a few songs/pieces that scream AMERICA to me (control-click or right click to open in a new tab):

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