Jose Can You See?
By Danny McBride - 10/29/2001 - 07:37 PM EST
As a matter of course I usually canít stand patriotic songs. Neil Diamondís "Coming To America" and Lee Greenwoodís "God Bless The U S A" are examples of the treacle Iím talking about. But in the past few weeks I have heard Ray Charlesí "America The Beautiful" on the radio several times, and seen him on TV, and I have changed my mind. Not only that, Iíve changed my tune. It used to have just a verse and a chorus, but now it has a second chorus (I guess thatís what youíd call it) thatís kind of anthemish. (I know--Anthemish- -Donít they live in Pennsylvania next door to the Amish?)
Yes, I canít believe Iím admitting it, but I am about to clutter the already overcrowded field of songs about the land where I live (field of songs- -Kevin Costner?). Even the thought of it makes me retch. I never set out to do this. As all of us will experience from time to time, a song just bolts out of you without any control over it. It just appears as if by divine intervention and you struggle to keep up with the snapping synapses to write it down (or tape it onto a work cassette or whatever) as fast as it keeps popping along in your head. I was driving to a business appointment, having rushed out forgetting my work cassette, when this happened. (I recommend always taking a cheap --$25--cassette recorder in the car for those moments when you are struck by brilliance, or heck, even mediocrity, which you may not know until later.) So I find myself driving and scribbling at the same time, having found a scrap of paper and a pencil rolling around on the floor with the old take-out food wrappers and styrofoam cups that litter the floor on the passenger side of the front seat. (They are not mine!! A frequent and regular passenger too young to drive often sits there munching, slurping, chomping and critiquing everything on the radio, and in fact, everything, as we motor to and from school, dance lessons, piano lessons, basketball games and, you guessed it, The Mall!!)
I do not recommend driving in L A traffic. I especially do not recommend driving in L A traffic with a scrid of paper on your steering wheel trying to write in dull pencil without looking at the paper, even though you want to, because you must watch the road. And most especially if you have chosen Benedict Canyon as your "freeway alternative" shortcut from The Valley to Beverly Hills. For those unfamiliar with the terrain, think Khyber Pass, Donner Party or Hannibal and The Elephants (Hey!! A great name for a rock band!!) and you may get the picture of the long and winding road (good phrase- -note to self- -flesh it out later on) that is the road from Mulholland Drive down to Sunset Boulevard (as in the part of the boulevard where Gloria Swanson is ready for her close-up, Mr DeMille).
Yes it is there where lightning strikes. Also I had this idea for a song. So you know when it just comes rushing out of you that youíve eaten something you- -No! That youíve been struck with a moment of genius that must be accommodated.
My old rule used to be "if itís any good it will come back to me" but that was when I was younger. Now that part of me is older, I cannot depend (HmmÖDependsÖpoor choice of words)- -I cannot be certain that it will recur no matter how good the idea is, so I must capture the moment whenever something wonderful jumps into my brain. So I am driving and scribbling. (Note to self- -perhaps another good "road" song, "Driving and Scribbling", a la Golden Earring!)
In America we have food to eat, we donít have to run through the---wait! Randy Newman already did that one. But thatís where I knew I was okay with patriotic. Mellencamp, Springsteen- -and my favorite, Chuck Berry- -all have good songs about the homeland. Why leave it up to Irving Berlin and Kate Smith? Although it is true that many of our best known songs about America were written by immigrants who were thoroughly happy to be here. Berlin is the best example. I would never have done this on purpose. It just happened.
Ever since I was a kid and heard the joke about the guy who went to the baseball game, and later was asked how he liked it and said "Great- -Before it started they all got up and sang a song asking me how my seats were- -Josť Can You See?" I wished we had a better song as a national anthem. I mean, "O Canada" is actually a pretty good song, and singable at hockey games by a bunch of overjuiced fans much more so than "The Star Spangled Banner" - -hit this note- -"And the Rocketís Red Glare"- -See what I mean? Well anyway, now we have one more weapon in our arsenal, or at least another song to sing the praises of the "Land Of The Free". (Say, thatís a good title- -why not use that?)
My advice, if you should be thunderstruck as I was, or even if you just sit down to write something in this genre, is to keep it honest. Try not to go too far overboard with symbolism and imagery. Stick to whatís real. Thatís why "America the Beautiful" works so well- -"O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain- -" See thatís real, we have that, as opposed to "And Iím proud to stand upÖ" Fine. Stand. My I take your seat? Iíve just had a brilliant idea that I need to write down and I can already see just fine, Josť.
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