It always has fascinated me just how much celebrations are connected with music. Maybe it’s simply because I’m musically minded. But I do believe there’s deeper symbolism somewhere in there.
In his first volume, “The Raw and the Cooked” (Le Cru et le Cuit), French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote that music is “the only language with the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable…” Songs are a story, which is something we know inherently. They’re a musical story of us.
Maybe that’s why we often sing songs traditionally without any thought or regard put into what’s being sung. Songs connect us to something deeper than even the lyrics may convey.
Ever been to a birthday party and someone doesn’t sing “happy birthday” with everyone else? It doesn’t even have to be your birthday for it to give you this incensed feeling. Even though if you were to really think about the lyrics of the birthday song, we’re singing nothing of any value. All we’re really conveying in that song is, “Hey you were born today. Hey you were born today. Hey you, specific person I’ll name by name you were born today. Hey you were born today.”
And you might say, “Well…it’s not the lyrics themselves, but the symbolism. It’s not the lyrics themselves, but the sentiment behind the song.” And so if someone is at a birthday party and REFUSES to join in singing “Happy Birthday” with everyone, we ask ourselves “then what are they even doing here at the party??” Because we correlate their lack of singing as a statement on their part that whomever’s birthday it is isn’t worth celebrating. So why are they even at a party focused on that individual?
I don’t know. This is just a hypothetical.
MAYBE they’re there not for the birthday, but for the rest of you. Who knows.
It IS weird to me though, how we just mechanistically DO these customs and traditions without even thinking about them.
Or how often we sing songs because of “tradition” without really considering the lyrics we’re singing. But isn’t that…KIND OF what so much of our lives have become? How many (metaphorical) songs do we find ourselves “singing” without even once stopping to consider (or in some cases, reevaluate) the lyrics we’re singing?
…All Show, No Substance…
When you’re out at a restaurant and “Happy Birthday” is sung at another table, do you join in singing? Or do you refrain because you don’t know the person? What if the party is incensed because of your refusal to join in song?
Would it be ridiculous for that party to say to you, “Well if you’re not going to sing and participate in celebrating this individual, why are you even AT this restaurant?”
What makes someone worth YOUR singing about?
What makes someone worth YOU celebrating?
“Please stand for OUR National Anthem”
The song’s about a Spanish guy!
The song is about a flag.
It’s honoring a piece of cloth.
Worshiping a glorified bed sheet, or board shorts, or tank top, or a pair of crocs.
But no…because it’s not about the lyrics, but about the symbolism and sentiment behind WHY you stand and sing it. You’re not celebrating the flag, you’re celebrating “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
It’s not the words, it’s what’s behind them.
“The land of the free and the home of the brave.”
It’s not about the lyrics, but the meaning behind it. We’re not celebrating the flag, we’re celebrating freedom and bravery.
Are we free? Are we brave?
Well..it’s the HOME of those that are. Okay, how many? And how many does it take to make the whole land be known as the “home of”?
What makes it the land of the free? What makes it the home of the brave?
Is it “The land of the Free American Citizens,” “Home of American Citizens who are brave?”
What’s it take to COME to this “land” and make it “home”? What agency? Autonomy? …Freedom?
Does THAT still count?
There’s a document we tend to honor and celebrate, kind of like a birth certificate. That says things like “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Who does that apply to? JUST American Citizens? Or was this supposed to be the country where you CAME TO in that pursuit?
Do these rights REALLY apply to ALL, or does “all” simply mean American Nationals…CITIZENS?
…All Show, No Substance…
Now there’s a lot to unpack in this song as well, but the question is still the same: What are we singing about in this song? The land itself? LAND? Worshiping LAND?? No? Something deeper?
And just what the hell does it mean that “God shed His grace on thee”…?
God crowns good WITH brotherhood (interesting that it’s not “IN” brotherhood, but WITH it…)
In 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech now referred to as “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Given in reflection of the Celebration of American Independence (it’s birthday…) the day prior. This was delivered a good 10 years prior to the abolition of slavery.
Analysis of the speech will convey Douglass’ desire to to address what TRULY makes an “American”? Where’s the fight? In a sense, what IS that “American Spirit”?
And yeah, Christianity plays a HUGE part in his speech. Not partisanship. Not the “moral majority.” Christianity. Where Christians SHOULD find their identity. As Americans? As Nationalists? As Republicans? Or as followers of Christ?
And his point was that this “Christian” Nation of ours wasn’t behaving very Christ-like.
This “Christian” Nation of ours ISN’T (currently) behaving very Christ-like…
But Douglass had hope that while he stated we as a Nation weren’t worth celebrating, we CAN be…
We may sing hollow songs because of the meaning and substance IN the song. But I like to believe we don’t sing songs that have a meaning we don’t at all agree with and believe.
America. An “Honorable Christian Nation, Land of the free and home of the brave” that currently ISN’T behaving bravely, freely, honorably, Christ–like, or even AMERICAN.
I believe in the symbol America stands for, but the substance is lacking.
…A white-washed tomb…
And until we bring back that American Spirit, I may be at the party, but I’m not going to be singing.