“Alright, ‘cuz I got my own world to look through…”

by Katie Pizzuto on July 5, 2013

in Barbecue,Celebrations/Festivals,holiday traditions,music

When I was young, Fourth of July fireworks were always a huge event. Macy’s would put on a tremendous show over the Hudson River and we would either sit on our porch (when we lived right on the Hudson River), sit on someone’s rooftop, or as I got older, walk halfway out on the George Washington Bridge, sit and watch them from there. Like the majority of Americans, our bellies were already full with hotdogs, hamburgers, macaroni salad, and some ubiquitous dessert made with strawberries and blueberries. But when it came time to watch those fireworks, it was pretty much a given that they’d be accompanied by the kind of John Philip Sousa-inspired music that always made you walk with your chest a little higher as the skies lit up and caught reflections in your eyes.

But last night’s show’s music was a clusterfuck…and believe me, I’m no John Philip Sousa groupie. Besides the fact that the firesworks were accompanied by pop songs that had no emotional connection to why July 4th is celebrated, there was something that pissed me off even more, mostly because it made a mockery of what declaring our independence meant then and means today. On a Monday morning, August 18, 1969, at the Woodstock Music Festival, a mud-caked audience that had peaked at over 400,000 people dwindled down to 30,000 tops, many just hoping to catch an earful of Jimi Hendrix before heading home. Cold, wet and tired, they waited for Hendrix and his band to take the stage. And after an unprecedented 2-hour set, Jimi layed a pick alongside the strings of his upside-down Stratocaster, and made music history on Yasgur’s Farm in the course of 4 minutes. If you’ve read this blog from its inception, you’ll know that the moment I’m talking about is Jimi’s interpretation of the Star Spangled Banner.

So when I heard the opening notes of Hendrix playing our national anthem as the fireworks began last night, I did sit up a little prouder. Finally, I thought. Finally they are playing music that wasn’t written 150 fucking years ago. But then I remembered what Jimi’s version was trying to emote. The anthem melody itself was treated respectfully and played rather straight forward, which made it the perfect juxtaposition to the loud simulated sounds of machine guns, bombs and screams. Its complexity served to mirror the perpetual state of tension that this country lived in. It was a generation’s electric voice about American unrest—both beautiful and tragic. It was an evocation of the chaos of the times; a marriage of the apocalypse and the rebirth. It was a wake-up call to those who weren’t yet paying attention to the quagmire in Vietnam. It was the equivalent of 30,000 “fuck you”s to the status quo. They will never have the balls to play this all the way through, I kept thinking. They will never let this gilded display of patriotism be saddled with a version of the national anthem that was basically performed as a protest song. And I was right. I’m always right.

Just as Jimi was about to lay into those simulated bombs and machine guns, an orchestra took over and picked up where the melody had left off. Then, just when you knew Jimi’s message was wrapping up and he was going to finish those last notes true to the melody, the orchestra dropped out and let him wind up the song. It was the worst mash up ever. The classic poker tell that gave you a glimpse into America’s hypocrisy. The worst trampling of patriotism and what so many fought and died for…the freedom of expression. Now, generations of young Americans will never know the full breadth of that version of that song done by that genius. They’ll walk around thinking that long-dead black musician was honoring this country when he played the anthem. Come to think of it, I guess he was….he just wasn’t honoring its actions. And these young Americans will walk around in the quiet lull of complacency and disinformation, fooled into thinking everything will be ok if we just have enough sparklers, don’t overcook our hamburgers and listen to one more Usher song before being herded home.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Erin Zohrehie July 5, 2013

Great piece. I feel the same way when I see young Americans rockin out to “born in the USA” doesn’t anyone listen to the lyrics or pay attention to why the song was written?

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2 Katie Pizzuto July 5, 2013

Precisely. As i watched i said there was no way they’d play the whole thing and sure enough i was right!

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3 coupe 60 July 5, 2013

Excellent thoughts Katie…BTW…I’m more for a return to Sousa kinda guy for that sort of thing…though I will also admit that I never find fireworks very interesting

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4 Katie Pizzuto July 5, 2013

I was asleep 10 minutes into it. And at least Sousa’s music made sense for the moment. Usher’s “Yeah” however hypnotic, is hardly patriotic 🙂

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5 Ida July 5, 2013

Katie, the music DID suck. Usher? Songs had no connection to the event except Macy’s pandering to the Millenials, a customer base they are aggressively pursuing. Are consumers that pliable that they will say, Oh yeah, Macy’s played Usher at the fireworks and now I’m going to rush in and buy crap I don’t like . Delusional marketing at its best.

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6 Katie Pizzuto July 6, 2013

That is PRECISELY what they were doing and it was horrible….now had they played Iron Maiden’s The Trooper or The Roots Duck Down that would have lured me in to Macy’s LOL! It was embarrassing.

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7 Katie Pizzuto July 6, 2013

By the way, Usher helped curate the playlist this year. Explains a lot, but not the mash up of the anthem

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8 Mike July 6, 2013

The Souza’s don’t like the Sousa’s

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9 Katie Pizzuto July 6, 2013

LMFAO. Well said.

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10 coupe 60 July 9, 2013

At least it wasn’t Kanye

11 Katie Pizzuto July 9, 2013

The way America is looking right now maybe it shoulda been Public Enemy.

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