There’s a whole sub-genre of Christmas songs which are really just love songs or break-up songs that happen to be set around Christmas and that lean on the holiday imagery. I like a lot of songs that are like that. I enjoy them a lot more than, say, debating whether or not they should officially count as “real” Christmas songs.
I kind of wish we had more songs like that for Halloween. Who do I talk to about arranging that?
Anyway, my personal playlist for this holiday includes a handful of songs that fall into this category. There’s “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” of course, and X’s version of Dave Alvin’s “4th of July,” and “Independence Day” from Ani DiFranco. All of those are just closely observed songs about relationships that happen to happen during summer. They’re not patriotic songs, just love songs lit by fireworks.
(Yes, I know Ani DiFranco badly mishandled her whole concert-at-a-plantation fiasco, but all my faves, etc., and she’s less so than, say, Exene, who seems to have gone full Steve Carlton. But if you’re making a 4th of July barbecue playlist, you’ll still probably want to leave that one off because it’s sort of a heartbreaking buzzkill.)
Another favorite of mine for this holiday falls into this category too, but still manages to sneak into the ranks of patriotic 4th of July songs sometimes because it hits all the right notes, musically, while using enough of the holiday language to seem like it belongs. But this is not a patriotic song celebrating the birth of America. Not at all. This is a song that makes the slightly dysfunctional couples detailed by Alvin and DiFranco seem positively serene by comparison.I’m talking about Martina McBride’s “Independence Day,” which was written by Gretchen Peters. It is, quite literally, apocalyptic, ending in flames.
But then again what could be more appropriate for this holiday than a song about the resort to revolutionary violence? “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them …” That’s what’s going on in this song.
In the song, please note, burn-it-all-down is the last resort for a desperate woman who’s out of options. She turned to her neighbors for help and “everybody looked the other way.” And when I think about that situation — justice denied, with no recourse, no appeal, no options, and no hope but apocalypse — then I wind up going back to that song from Ani DiFranco, the one I said was really just about relationships and not about 4th of July patriotism.
I’ve got your back now
You’d better have mine
Maybe that right there is the core of any patriotism worth celebrating.
Oh, and don’t let this holiday pass by without re-reading one of the greatest theological essays in our nation’s history, Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”
(Whenever I refer to Douglass as a theologian, people are always, like, “I don’t really see him as doing theology.” And I’m, like, “Yeaaaah, that right there is the problem.”)