The bomb goes boom

>> Thursday, April 15, 2010

Okay, this is funny. This is the song that hooked me.

I'm a kid, right, seventh-grade, I think. Thin, nerdy, shy. Lousy with girls. Socially maladjusted, moreso than the average seventh grader--social interactions beyond a small circle of fellow-nerds are almost traumatic. It's not being in public--I think I was already doing some theater, something that was a big thing for me through junior high and high school, but you know, that's abstract--the public is out there in the darkness, a billion miles away. It's something I've sort of gotten over, I guess, but not--being in front of a jury is kind of a theatre, kind of a role you play. But anyway, this is me, and for some reason I get invited to a party and I go.

And I don't remember anything about the party except this: that at some point in the evening, somebody put on Around The World In A Day, and they put on this song:

This was obviously not the first Prince song I'd ever heard. The album before Day was... drumroll... Purple Rain, and everybody who was within a line of sight to a cable television had seen the video for "When Doves Cry," right? And the radio had been full of Prince. But this song, of all things, was an epiphany.

And it's kind of a terrible song, is the funny part.

I was already pretty left-wing by that age. My parents are liberals, I'd been petrified by the fear of nuclear war a few years earlier and had briefly dragged my parents to SANE meetings, what I understood about politics was basically that Ronald Reagan hated poor people and kept acting like he wanted to blow up Russia, both of which seemed stupid and wrong even to a kid.

And here's this song--

Communism is just a word
But if the government turn over
It'll be the only word that's heard.

Oh, and how about:

Jimmy Nothing never went 2 school
They made him pledge allegiance
He said it wasn't cool
Nothing made Jimmy proud
Now Jimmy lives on a mushroom cloud

Seventh grade was about the time I stopped saying the Pledge for all sorts of reasons. I'd stand in class and... well, I just stood there. I don't think I've said the Pledge Of Allegiance since seventh grade and not just because of the religious stuff--I like the flag and am proud of my affirmation to uphold the Constitution, but that's what my allegiance is to, the Republic and not the symbol.

Even at that tender young age, "America" wasn't exactly my kind of song. Hell, even then I knew the jingoism and politics of the song were pretty much just a fucking mess--I'm not exactly sure what he was going for with some of the lines in there, though overall I suspect Prince was going after a cranked-up riff on James Brown's "America Is My Home." But that wasn't what grabbed me when the needle hit the vinyl.

What grabbed me was that groove. Fucking hell, that's a riff. Tell me you didn't catch your ass shaking during that one.

At some level, and this is what's so awesome or maybe so insidious about music, music itself has an utter abstract purity that's beyond politics or race or gender. "America" isn't a song I can get behind ideologically, if it's even cohesive enough to be discussed as a piece of politics. What ideology it has is, perhaps surprisingly given Prince's libertine pansexual image, pretty right-wing. Salute the flag, my country right-or-wrong, better to be poor and on the brink-of-death than to be a dreaded communist--and I'm not even sure the Purple One has even given all that much thought to what that word even means.

But damn; this is one I have to call a guilty pleasure. That earworm guitar hook, that sinuous, funkadelic sax. Prince is a helluva musician and a helluva songwriter--he's also a helluva an arranger. There's not a note, not an instrument that's out of place here, everybody locked down in a perfect groove start-to-finish.

What else can I say? This song pretty much stands at a right angle to most of what I believe in--but damned if I don't still adore it after a quarter of a century.


Mrs. Bitch Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:12:00 AM EDT  

Golly, Mr. Clark! I give it a 9 'cause it's fun to dance to! Sorry, waaaayyyyy before your time.

I wouldn't call myself a Prince fan, but I never end up changing the radio station in the car if one of his songs come on -- in fact, I sometimes end up cranking them up.

One quick question -- did they pass out tambourines to the audience? If you watch the crowd it looks like a whole bunch of people have them.

Eric Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:17:00 AM EDT  

Ah, but as a rock fan I still recognize the reference!

I don't know if they passed out the tambourines or if fans simply brought them as a thing-to-do (Around The World In A Day has a song called "Tambourine," so either one is possible). Pretty awesome either way....

Random Michelle K Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 9:31:00 PM EDT  

Oh! Hey! A chance to disagree with Eric!

First, I like the song "America" but I've always thought it was just a bit too heavy handed to really really enjoy. But that's just me.

Now onto my disagreement... :)

I don't think I've said the Pledge Of Allegiance since seventh grade and not just because of the religious stuff--I like the flag and am proud of my affirmation to uphold the Constitution, but that's what my allegiance is to, the Republic and not the symbol.

A friend (with whom I sadly lost track after her divorce) was the daughter of parents who had left Europe to escape the Nazis. So she grew up hearing stories of what her parents had to go through and the sacrifices that had to be made, and of the lives lost.

Thing is, she absolutely loved the Pledge of Allegiance. She thought it was fantastic and one of the things that made the US so very different from Europe.

Her reason was this:

As you move through Europe, different state tend to have a common history going back hundreds of years, and usually a common religion.

In the US, she said, we have no common history or religion or politics holding us together, what we have instead is a love of our country and the freedoms upon which our country was founded.

Over the years I've thought a lot about what she said.

When I say the pledge and salute the flag, I am not mouthing words and saluting an object, I am speaking to what those symbols represent. To the "United States of America."

See, this is where the right wingers fuck it all up. United States isn't an entity, it isn't a single thing, it's a collection, a group.

These United States. We are plural, not single. We are joined together, united not by a ruling aristocracy, but by the ideals of equality and the rights of all men to control their own destiny.

Our country is more than a group of people bound by history and tradition, we are bound our freedoms and by the equality that we continue to work towards.

The flag represents these ideals, and our striving towards them. The pledge is not to an inanimate object but to our hope to embody the freedoms of the constitution.

Perhaps that makes me a Pollyanna, but I firmly believe we strive to be more, to be better than we were in the past, and the flag and pledge are reminders of those goals.

Eric Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 10:26:00 PM EDT  

Michelle, I understand what you're saying, but I'd rather pledge allegiance to the thing itself than a symbol for the thing. When I was admitted to the Bar, I took a pledge (specifically an affirmation--the atheist's version of an oath) to uphold the Constitution and was proud to do it. But I have a skepticism against iconography.

It's complicated. I'm not wholly adverse to symbolism--too much the artist for that. But symbols frequently are used as a substitute for comprehension: "We're not going to explain what this means or why it's important, we're just going to stick a substitute for it in your face and tell you to get excited." And the history of flag-worship abroad doesn't make me happier about hints of it here.

I will and have pledged allegiance to the Republic for which it stands; to the flag, not so much. Sorry.

Random Michelle K Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 11:02:00 PM EDT  

I was raised Catholic--we're all about iconography. :)

Seriously though, I probably have to factors you don't that strongly influence how I feel (besides that whole Catholic icon thing).

First, all my paternal great-grandparents were immigrants, as was my maternal grandmother. I think that coming to this country gives one a different perspective on the US, and I believe that shaped the attitude of my grandparents and father (and thus me to a smaller degree).

Second, I have always been very aware of my family's military service--and was very aware of the attitude in the US towards military service during and after Vietnam. (I have cousins my age on both sides who are career military.)

Third, I did a lot of "historical stuff" as a kid, including Fort McHenry, and I was six for the bicentennial (we were in Baltimore and saw the tall ships, which was awesome.)

No, let me take another tack (but I'll leave all that there).

Have you ever been to a military funeral?

Have you ever watched soldiers lift the flag off a coffin, fold it ever so carefully, and then hand that triangle to the widow? That triangle of fabric may only be a symbol, but what it symbolizes is something that cannot be put into words.

All of that and more is what I believe the flag means.

Eric Friday, April 16, 2010 at 12:25:00 AM EDT  

Michelle: No, I haven't been to a military funeral. Yes, I understand what you're saying. No, I still don't agree with you.

And look, the fact that a symbol is undeniably powerful doesn't change the reification issue I have with the Pledge Of Allegiance. I didn't say the flag wasn't a powerful symbol. Matter of fact, my mistrust of it as a symbol has everything to do with its power, or wasn't that clear?

Indeed, I think you're missing something very, very important about my entire feeling about the Pledge: I take this very seriously. I take what I pledge my allegiance to very seriously. I take what I affirm service to very seriously. Too seriously to reduce it to a classroom ritual, sorry.

And while my family does, in fact, go back in this country a ways, I'd sort of appreciate it if you didn't make too many further presumptions about my childhood, background or ancestry, thanks.

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