When Francis Scott key wrote the lyrics, "And the rockets' red glare! Bombs bursting in air" in 1814, the rockets were a different. The bombs were different. They seem a lot less glorified and inspirational in the desert-like environment of today than that naïve, bygone era when "proudly we hail."
This July 4th, it's time to reflect on some of the songs and writings of Americans about the land they love. The music of America and American theatre has reflected the state of our country, telling our biggest stories in universally-accessible and often entertaining ways. This land is your land...isn't it?
You must remember, "The home of the free and the brave"? "You're the emblem of the land I love"? Thank you, George M. Cohan.
There are memories of the musical, "1776" and our Declaration of Independence, courtesy of music and lyric of Sherman Edwards. Lyrics should really not be read on a printed page, but are set to the music in the context of the characters who sing at a moment of a show. But notwithstanding the witty incisive book by Peter Stone, we all know that "1776" is essentially about our country's founding fathers and the moment at which they articulated our independence.
John Adams sang (to God):
"Or a cataclysmic earthquake
I'd accept with some despair
But, no, you sent us Congress.
Good God, sir, was that fair?
And, almost as though he was looking ahead about, well, let's say, 234 years into the future, he added:
"You see, we piddle, twiddle, and resolve
Not one damn thing do we solve.
"They may sit here for years and years in Philadelphia.
These indecisive grenadiers of Philadelphia.
They can't agree on what is right and wrong
Or what is good or bad; I'm convinced
The only purpose this Congress ever had
Was to gather here specifically
To drive John Adams mad!"
That show (and later musical film) "1776" is filled with idealism, smart men and visionaries who wrote the foundation articulated what our country is to be about and there were July 4th bells ringing and there were fireworks literally (and figuratively).
From 1776, fast-forward to another piece of musical theatre written by John Weidman and composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the music and lyrics.
Mr. Sondheim, in another musical take on American history entitled "Assassins" wrote in the finale:
"A gun kills many men before it's done,
Long before you shoot the gun:
Men in the mines
And in the steel mills,
Men at machines
Who died for what?
"Something to buy-
A watch, a shoe, a gun,
A thing to make the bosses richer,
But a gun claims many men before it's done
"It takes a lot of men to make a gun,
Many men to make a gun:
"Men in the mines
To dig the iron
Men in the mills
To forge the steel,
Men at machines,
To turn the barrel,
Mold the trigger,
Shape the wheel -
It takes a lot of men to make a gun...
And, then John Wilkes Booth adds his voice:
"And all you have to do
Is move your little finger,
Move your little finger and
You can change the world.
"Why should you be blue
When you've moved your little finger?
Prove how just a little finger
Can change the world."*
Perhaps the Supreme Court wasn't thinking about Mr. Sondheim's lyrics when they voted last week to allow many more fingers the option to emulate Booth.
Let's not ever forget the implication of the wonderful words of Katharine Lee Bates who wrote AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!"
We sing along as we recite, but are we listening? Perhaps the real implication is worth a lot of people reflecting on instead of just reciting the words without thinking about them. The implication is that there may be a flaw that does require turning to a higher power to help us mend those flaws. It may be that we need self-control and more than a beautiful America (although the Gulf is showing signs of, well, let's call is strain!) and liberty, our liberty for all of us, is based in law!
*Rilting Music Administered by Warner Bros. Music
THE spot for your favorite fan theories and the best Netflix recs. Learn more