Pride Has a Way of Holding Too Firm To History–America’s Unquenchable “Wildfire”

Pride Has a Way of Holding Too Firm To History–America’s Unquenchable “Wildfire” February 7, 2019
Note: This is the first in a series of articles I’m writing about songs that are particularly important and meaningful to me. These are songs that carry an important message about America, our history, and our continuing struggle to live up to our own creed. 
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I’d like to introduce you to a favorite music group of mine. They aren’t household names, but they have a solid following for a band of their genre, which is roots, acoustic, Americana style music. Their name is Mandolin Orange. I stumbled across them on one of my many trips into the Youtube rabbit hole loops. The first song I listened to absolutely knocked me right up side the head. As a  passionate student and teacher of American history, this song, called Wildfire, scratches every itch I have. It is basically an American history lesson from the Revolutionary War through modern times. The “wildfire” referred to throughout the song is the long-standing elephant in our national room, our inability to live up to our own creed due to racial discrimination, bigotry and hatred. I’m going to share with you the lyrics, one stanza at a time, and share some reflections in between. At the end of this piece, you’ll find a video of the band performing the song live. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen or two, or 10, or 100.Now, on to the lyrics.

Verse 1

Brave men fought with the battle cry
Tears filled the eyes of their loved ones and their brothers in arms
And so it went for Joseph Warren
It should have been different
It could have been easy
His rank could have saved him
But a country unborn needs bravery
And it spread like wildfire

We open with the humble but noble beginnings of our nation. We are introduced here to a hero named Joseph Warren. Warren was a patriot from Massachusetts and served as that colony’s   congressional president. He was also a Major General in the Massachusetts Colonial Militia during the Revolutionary War. It is true that “his rank could have saved him” but he chose instead to fight along with his men in the Battle of Bunker Hill where he was killed. “A country unborn” did indeed “need bravery”, and Joseph Warren, like so many others who sacrificed much for the the grand American experiment in self-government and the promise of equality for all, provided it. “And it spread like wildfire.”

Verse 2

From the ashes grew sweet liberty
Like the seeds of the pines when the forest burns
They open up to grow and burn again
It should have been different
It could have been easy
But too much money rolled in to ever end slavery
The cry for war spread like wildfire

As that initial wildfire burned, liberty began to grow out of the ashes but, alas, it wasn’t the kind of liberty promised in the Declaration of Independence. As the nation’s economy began to grow and the textile mills began to sprout in the industrial North, a steady and cheap supply of cotton was sorely needed. The agricultural South was eager to supply it and, to keep that cotton cheap, slavery was the engine that supplied the power to deliver it. Everyone, North and South, was getting wealthy, except for the slaves. and too much money was being made to put an end to it. Eventually, some of America’s original social justice warriors began to call for a change, demanding that we finally begin living up to our own lofty ideals, and “the cry for war spread like wildfire.”

Verse 3

Civil War came, Civil War went
Brother fought the brother, the South was spent
But its true demise was hatred passed down through the years
It should have been different
It could have been easy
But pride has a way of holding too firm to history
And it burns like wildfire

In this verse, we finally face our “elephant in the room” with the four bloodiest years in our nation’s history. It is true, “the south was spent”, and it took a long time for them to recover and rebuild, but also rebuilt, in addition to the economy and infrastructure, was the institutionalized racism enforced by the rise of hate and terror from groups like the KKK. “It should have been different, it could have been easy, but pride”…pride never left the South and, when it became enmeshed with bitterness, fear, and resentment, a whole new level of hatred emerged in the form of intimidation and terror designed to keep the newly freed blacks from enjoying anything approaching the equality or enfranchisement promised them by the brand new 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. That pride held firm and burned like wildfire.

Verse 4

I was a born a southern son
In a small southern town where the rebels run wild
They beat their chests and they swear we’re going to rise again
It should have been different
It could have been easy
The day that old Warren died hate should have gone with him
But here we are caught in the wildfire

Here, the song’s author, Mandolin Orange’s own Andrew Marlin, brings us into modern times with a little biographical revelation. He reveals that he is, himself, a son of the South. He grew up in a small town in North Carolina where he experienced, first hand, how pride has it’s way of holding too firm to history. He saw his friends driving around flying their Confederate flags proudly while bragging about heritage. Then he laments how things have gone–how they should have been different–and returns us to the story of Joseph Warren. “The day that old Warren died, hate should have gone with him, but here we are caught in the wildfire.”

America had a chance from the very beginning to be the model for liberty and equality throughout the world. Granted, in some ways–for some people–we have been. We’ve always looked good on paper and the American Dream has been attained by millions. But for far too many of our people–the original inhabitants who settled here thousands of years before any white man set foot in the New World–those with black skin brought here from Africa against their will and their descendants–women–immigrants from near and far–LGBTQ people–the poor and marginalized–the promise of liberty and equality has been much too difficult to reach, and many are reaching in vain still.

Mandolin Orange’s Wildfire is arresting and convicting. It never fails to move me deeply. I hope you will give it a listen and share it with your friends. It deserves to be heard by everyone.

I’ll be back to share another important song with you soon.

 

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Thank you!

 

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