I have a confession to make. I hate the song “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood, also known as “I’m Proud to be an American.”
I’m from Alabama. I voted for George W. Bush. I get teary-eyed watching “Patton.” I take off my hat and stand for the National Anthem, even if I’m watching the game on TV. But I hate that song.
“God Bless the U.S.A.” gets overplayed every Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day. The reason is obvious. It talks about family! And work! And Texas! And Tennessee! And shining seas! And the troops! And the Apocalypse!
I’ll get into that in a moment. I don’t hate it because it is cheesy, boring, or even that it gets over-played to the exclusion of better songs, although all of that is true.
No, I hate this song because it doesn’t make any sense. There are a few versions I’ve found online, but they all start with the line “If tomorrow all the things were gone.” Whoa. That’s bleak. We’re not talking about good old middle-America; we’re talking “I Am Legend.” Here’s the full first verse:
If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life
And I had to start again with just my children and my wife
I’d thank my lucky stars to be livin’ here today
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom and they can’t take that away
The song then describes rebuilding, with “children” and “wife.” Wait—so people weren’t included in the vanishing of all “things”? If not, then what exactly is gone? Plants? Buildings? Clothes? Not flags, apparently, because a later verse informs us that they still “stand for freedom.”
I have to assume the government is gone, or else what is this person rebuilding? But he is still proud to be an American. Even without the America. I guess that’s a little inspiring. But it’s hardly a message we can relate to.
The song then just lists places. Minnesota lakes, Tennessee hills, Detroit, New York, Los Angeles. He says there is pride in every American heart. So apparently hearts weren’t included in this cataclysm of “things.” I prefer to think he is traveling across post-apocalyptic America, like in “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. The pride in “every American heart” is just his own. The men who died to give this life to him is literally everyone.
It’s like this song was written as the theme of Stephen King’s “The Stand.” All the things are gone, but some people remain. Not many, but enough to form a new set of friends, and eventually, family. The characters start out in L.A., New York, and Texas, but they slowly come together.
They travel over lakes and plains. They eventually vote to reinstate the Constitution, becoming Americans, even though America is long since gone. Tragically, they have an enemy, and too many of them are forced to sacrifice their lives to keep the rest safe. But they die knowing they will never be forgotten.
Wait, is this song about “The Stand”? Never mind, I love this song now.