…the song’s version of patriotism is completely contentless. Two verses and three choruses, and Mr. Greenwood couldn’t find a single reason to love the U.S.A.? Yeah, yeah, I know, pride, pride, freedom, freedom: “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” But free to do what? To fire employees without cause, thanks to the at-will employment doctrine? To abolish the estate tax? To hold up a sign saying that Matthew Shepherd got what he deserved? Or to protest foolish wars, march for civil rights, and support the right of kids with Down syndrome to be educated in regular classrooms where they can go to visit Fort Robideau with their nondisabled peers? “God Bless the U.S.A.” doesn’t say, and that’s what makes it such a perfect emblem of a certain kind of right-wing contentless patriotism, the kind of patriotism that supports the troops by flying flags from cars while supporting a President who leads the troops off to needless slaughter and then cuts their veterans’ benefits. Had Greenwood said anything about that freedom‚Äì “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free of all taxes on my estate of $36 million,” or “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free to fight for the right to register Mississippi’s black voters in the face of murderous right-wing opposition”‚Äì one imagines that his song would be a good deal less popular.
My own issues with fourth-of-July music have definitely got something to do with all that. But it’s also, alas, wrapped around what I think to be a series of memories whose wires have gotten all crossed in my brain. First, the Chicago song, “Saturday in the Park,” where I think it was the fourth of July. (In fact, now that I think about it, every day in that park seems to be the fourth of July!) Then, from approximately the same period, me flipping through my parents’ album collection, in which I know they had some 5th Dimension. (I know, this makes no sense whatsoever, but bear with me.) Then, from a little later in my childhood, the altogether astonishing Fifth of Beethoven, which may or may not be implicated in this mess.
What’s got me off on this rather appalling trip down my parents’ musical memory lane is that I could almost swear that they had some album called “5th of July.” All my searching has only turned up the Lanford Wilson play, so I’m almost certainly conflating the 5th Dimension and the Chicago song, schmooing in the title of the “Fifth of Beethoven,” and somehow producing an album about the day after the fireworks. Which almost certainly doesn’t exist. But I obsess about it this time every year, and if somebody could give me definitive proof one way or the other, I could put those processing cycles to much better use.
Like trying to decide whether granite countertops or Zodiaq are the way to go.