Thursday, July 10, 2008

America is just a word but I use it

As usual I’m late to jump on the bandwagon with this, but a recent Sound Opinions show about their favorite songs about America got met thinking. So here are three songs that embody America to me:

Modest Mouse, “Novocaine Stain” off their 1996 album This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About

Modest Mouse were one of my favorite bands in the late nineties. They were the perfect soundtrack for depression, and for a quarter-life crisis. This song, about the changing landscape caused by development, perfectly captured my fears and anxiety about California and San Francisco’s ever-growing population. Everyone’s moving to paradise and turning it into a strip mall. No I don’t like this change of pace at all.

“Interchange plazas a mall
And crowded chain restaurants
More housing developments go up
Named after the things they replace
So welcome to Minnow Brook
And welcome to Shady Space
And it all seems a little abrupt
No I don't like this change of pace”

Minutemen “Corona” off Double Nickels on the Dime

Better known as the Jackass theme song, this rousing Tex-Mex blazer is actually a commentary on coming face to face with “the dirt, scarcity, and the emptiness/of our South.”

"The people will survive
In their environment
The dirt, scarcity, and the emptiness
Of our South
The injustice of our greed
The practice we inherit
The dirt, scarcity and the emptiness
Of our South
There on the beach
I could see it in her eyes
I only had a Corona
Five cent deposit"

It makes me tear up almost every time.

The Minutemen’s “I Felt Like A Gringo” is another song that reminds me of America, partially because it takes place on the 4th of July, but also because it discusses the awkward, ugly American abroad, both reviled and envied by those outside our borders. Over a funky, bluesy riff, D. Boon wails “A ton of white guilt that’s my problem. Obstacle to joy/one reason for using drugs.” The song is a classic example of Boon’s wonderful poetry, which seems simple on the surface, but deals with a lot of big questions.

“Slept on a mexican beach slept in trash - American trash -
thinking too much can ruin a good time.
I asked a Mexican who ran a bar for Americans
"Who won" I said "The election?",
He laughed, I felt like a gringo,
They played a song and had some fun with us.
Why can't you buy a good time?
Why are there soldiers in the street?
Why did I spend the fourth in someone else’s country?”

That song also gets honorable mention for containing several quotes that have continued to resonate with me since I first heard it almost twenty years ago. Why can’t you buy a good time? Why are there soldiers in the street? Why did I spend the fourth in someone else’s country?

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