Happy Birthday, America!

July 4, 2010

Here is my Facebook status for today:

Happy Birthday, America! And while I’m at it, let me say thanks to Britain for all the good things you gave us… like common law and the Beatles. But not for your system of measurements, because that really blows. Still, we love you and no hard feelings for all that nastiness 234 years ago.

Let me also share one of my favorite songs about America, “American Tune,” by Paul Simon. It was on his second solo album in the early ’70s, but this version—with his ex-partner Garfunkel at their reunion concert in Central Park in 1981—is the one I fell in love with as a kid. I wish the song weren’t quite as pessimistic as it is. In the stagflation and Watergate days of the ’70s it surely rang true for a lot of people—and depending on whom you ask, it probably still does.

But the song could also be heard as a healthy kind of disillusionment. No nation, no system of government, no human institution—no matter how good or well-intentioned—can possibly address our deepest needs. What can? Who can? So maybe on the other side of the song’s pessimism and disillusionment, we find God.

When I hear Art’s ethereal tenor and these harmonies and this melody (which Simon cribbed from Bach, or so I’ve read), I find God! It’s one of those impossibly beautiful songs. Enjoy!

3 Responses to “Happy Birthday, America!”

  1. The tune reminds me of the hymn “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.” It’s by a German hymn writer named Paul Gerhardt. I like the song. Never heard it before!

  2. Upon further research, the tune was used by Bach in St. Matthew’s Passion but was written by Hans Leo Hassler around 1600.

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