Okay, I know it isn’t Friday. So a Friday Night Video post may be unexpected. If it helps, you can think of this as a Fourth (of July) Night Video post! Or, if you prefer, you can think of this as a makeup for the one I wasn’t able to write last Friday since I was at that conference all week. However you slice it, as people all over the country celebrate America’s birthday in their own way, I wanted to offer some music that explores all America does, can, and should represent.
In the interest of academic honesty, this idea was 100% Matthew’s. When I first started up the F.N.V. series he asked if he could guest VJ for the 4th and offer a wonderful selection of contemplative, challenging, justice-oriented songs. I was so down for that! However summer vacation came, life got busy, and I just realized late last night I hadn’t talked to him about this since before school let out. This left me with three options. I could just skip the idea…but it was far too brilliant to let pass. I could send him a text around midnight asking him to write something up for me totally last second…which I was really close to doing but felt too bad about it. Or I could just steal his idea and do it myself. So I went with that. I apologize in advance for this not being as good as it would have been had Matthew done this himself. But I hope you enjoy it anyway! With that being said, let’s get to rockin’ shall we?
Childish Gambino – “This Is America” – 2018
There’s not much I can say about this song/video that hasn’t already been said and said better. But I think it’s one of the most layered and brilliant pieces of cultural criticism to come out in the last decade. When I first saw it, I was speechless. I must’ve watched it a half dozen times. It’s sobering, thought-provoking, and will stay with you long after it’s finished. If you haven’t seen this yet, prepare yourself. It’s as heavy as it is important. If you have seen it, then you know it’s a video we all need to watch and we should watch it often, allowing it to move through our hearts, minds, and souls.
Nahko and Medicine for the People – “My Country” – 2013
This is a live version of one of the most powerful songs I’ve ever heard. You know how everyone likes to talk about their pick for the national anthem? Well, this gets my vote. It’s uncompromising in its honesty and its challenge to what America has been and what it could and should be.
Bob Dylan – “With God On Our Side” – 1964
All through our history, America has justified it’s actions – be it Manifest Destiny, war, profiting off humans kept in change, etc. – by professing the idea that God is with us in our actions. God supports and blesses all we do. Well it doesn’t take more than a casual glance at the Bible to know God stands opposed to all empire is and does. In this song, Dylan – perhaps the greatest American songwriter – traces every military conflict the U.S. has engaged in from its inception to the Cold War and shines a light on the outlandish hypocrisy inherent in claiming God would ever support the killing of war.
Common – “Letter To The Free” – 2016
Here Common, in the tradition of all great prophets, calls his listeners to see what’s going on in this country and do something about it. Racism has evolved and changed its form in the U.S. over time. And while we have made some progress in battling it, it’s still a seething cancer in our country. This is a beautiful song illustrating the painful reality of racism in America. It calls out and challenges the hate raging within our borders while calling us all to rise above it.
Woody Guthrie – “Jesus Christ” – 1940
Woody Guthrie is one of America’s greatest musicians. In this powerful piece he examines the truth of Jesus’s Gospel message and puts it in tension with the way so many of us live in America. We consider ourselves “one nation under God” and say “God bless America” at every turn. But are we, as a nation, honestly trying to serve Jesus and his message? That’s not how Empire works. As Woody sings, “But the bankers and the preachers, they nailed Him on the cross / And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave…It was the big landlord and the soldiers that they hired / To nail Jesus Christ in the sky…This song was made in New York City / Of rich man, preacher, and slave / If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee / They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.” Cognitive dissonance and willful ignorance allow us to live corruption while claiming God is with us but the clarity and power of scripture will always be there to remind us what Jesus calls is to…and what the Kingdom of God truly looks like.
Joan Baez – “Blowin’ In The Wind” – 1963
What do I even need to say about this song? “Blowin’ In The Wind” is one of Bob Dylan’s most iconic songs. This is a gorgeous cover by Joan Baez, whose voice is as powerful as it is angelic. Written in 1962, it can’t help but leave us wrestling with why these questions remain unanswered nearly fifty-six years later.
Green Day – “Minority” – 2000
Before they became one of America’s most powerful prophetic voices with 2004’s American Idiot, Green Day gave us “Minority.” In addition to being my all-time favorite Green Day song, this was a striking indication of the direction their music was heading. A challenge to the alt-right before the term even existed, in an explosive proclamation of solidarity the song takes to task all those who would oppress those on the margins while universalizing their point of view. This is a live version because the video for the song is the censored version and part of the deep, cathartic release of this song is getting to sing-a-long with the, “One light, one mind, flashing in the dark / Blinded by the silence of a thousand broken hearts / ‘For crying out loud’ she screamed unto me / Free for all! / Fuck ’em all! / ‘You and your own sight’” :).
Bruce Springsteen – “American Land” – 2006
I love this song too. Because, despite all the trials, troubles, and tribulations we have in our country – at this moment and through our history – we can never forget where we came from and what we’re called to be. As Bruce says, this is an “immigrant song” and, as such, gets to the heart of what makes American what it is. “The McNicholas, the Posalskis, the Smiths, Zerillis too / The Blacks, the Irish, Italians, the Germans and the Jews / They come across the water a thousand miles from home / With nothing in their bellies but the fire down below / They died building the railroads, they worked to bones and skin / They died in the fields and factories, names scattered in the wind / They died to get here a hundred years ago, they’re still dying now / The hands that built the country we’re always trying to keep out.” We are at our best when we see the truth and beauty of this. Immigrants built this country, no matter what lie some would like to cling to. We have a history of and moral responsibility to welcome those who seek shelter here, sharing the promise of this country with all who seek it.
Elizabeth Mitchell – “This Land Is My Land” – 2017
Originally written and recorded by Woody Guthrie in 1940, this song is one of those quintessentially American songs. However, the version we all learn in elementary school tends to remove a few of the song’s most important verses to make it “safe.” This was the best version I could find – sung gorgeously I might add – with all of Woody’s original lyrics in it. As Woody (or Elizabeth, as the case may be) sings, “As I went walking I saw a sign there / And on the sign it said ‘No Trespassing.’ / But on the other side it didn’t say nothing, / That side was made for you and me. / In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, / By the relief office I seen my people / As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking / Is this land made for you and me?” As we celebrate the Fourth of July, I think we all need to think about Woody’s question. Is this land made for you and me? We know the answer should be “yes.” But what are we doing to make it so? Let’s remember who this land is for and do all we can to embody the idea of liberty and justice for all, even if some of the powers-that-be would rather sell a revisionist take on the American Dream.
Are you in the mood for more music?? If so check out…