I’d love to know why this song hits me the way it does. Perhaps it’s my unbridled patriotism – you know, the stuff that conservative types say we free-thinking progressives don’t have. Well, I have it in spades. Acres and acres of spades. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through a National Anthem dry-eyed. In Concert Choir in high school, we performed the U.S. songs of military service as a huge flag fell behind us. I was probably the only kid on those risers looking down, tears dropping quickly onto the stage.
I’m a sap, yes, but a proud sad.
The intricate, fine-filigree beauty of Paul Simon’s lyrics here just slays me. And now, in this climate, with bombs blowing up elsewhere and cops shooting kids nearby, we should all go look for America.
The America we dream of. The America that just says, “Hey, you know what? Your way isn’t my way, but that’s OK.” The America that sees black, brown and white as merely an abundance or absence of melanin, which makes pigment. An America that doesn’t split hairs on its original amendments, and does what’s right to protect the many, not the few. The America that doesn’t shoot people first and ask questions later – even if that person is doing something illegal.
I am a moderate politically. I believe in working hard and earning your pay. I believe in caps on Welfare, Disability and other funding. I believe in my brother’s plan – if you’re on unemployment after two years, you’re put to work in the military – not on active duty, necessarily, but in civilian roles. Something. Anything. That small job might lead to a career in something. I know my career has saved my life — maybe it would work for others. Put repeat drug offenders to work in the fields. Something useful that didn’t cost taxpayers as much and might result in a well-adjusted person coming out, looking for that freedom that we all crave.
But I also believe in helping people who have nothing and working within communities to spread positive messages about ALL walks of life. I believe in ultimate civil rights and freedoms. Love is love, and love yields love. And what it yields – a child who is gay, or a child who isn’t what you thought they would be – deserves all the freedoms of the others.
So before I go off on yet another tangent, back to “America.” Something about these two broke wanderers, traversing America in the back of a bus with a belly full of cheap food, brings out the Kerouac in me, my inner rambler (a persona I have seldom lived out, due to my fear of my inner civilization breaking down). Two people in love (or something) head out on their own, making jokes along other passengers… romantic, in an odd, wistful way. It encapsulates the “lost” feeling of youth, the place you are at when you realize you have no roots, and aren’t sure where you want to put them down. The place when you realize so many others are lost too –“Cathy I’m lost I said though I knew she was sleeping I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike They’ve all come to look for America All come to look for America.”
David Bowie sang this song for “The Concert for America,” after 9/11. It was so poignant to me then, and I didn’t know why. I now know that its timing was perfect — we were lost then, and have become lost again. We need to find our common ground, our peace, before we become a nation torn asunder. We need to realize that zealotry in any way– saying your way is the only way — is akin to the Taliban or Isis or whatever the hell else is out there. We have to work together, and we’re not.
I may never know all the mysteries of why this song evokes all these feels. But I love it, and won’t question it too long. I’ll just listen, and wish for peace, justice and prosperity for all.