Happy American Independence Day, everyone. My July 4th’s planned frolicking in the holiday sunshine is replaced by my hunkering over the computer avoiding the chilly Seattle clouds. Summer will arrive tomorrow here; it simply has to. In the meantime, I am giving thought to the day, freedom and such, and how much I really loathe crappy patriotic songs. You know the kind of songs I mean, because you will hear them all blaring out of every ludicrous monster truck’s stereo system today while a tiny Confederate flag waves from the top. “God Bless The USA,” “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue,” and, stupidly misunderstood by Travis Stupaktruck and his jingoist pals, “Born In The USA.” There are lots of good patriotic songs and things written about them; what I would like to bring you today are a few musical moments that stand out for me – sometimes not as much the song as the circumstances around it, sometimes a patriotic song done in a way that made people think again about the complexities of what it is to be an American.

On Easter Sunday, 1939, an absolutely remarkable moment occurred on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, when our government stood publicly behind a single individual to right an injustice. Because she was black, Marian Anderson, one of the most renowned operatic voices of her generation, had been barred by the Daughters of the American Revolution to perform a concert in Washington D.C.’s Constitution Hall. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took the lead, resigned from the DAR, and helped to arrange a free concert featuring Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, broadcast over NBC Radio. Over 75,000 people of all races peacefully attended.

Thirty years later, another huge crowd gathered at Woodstock in what turned out to be not just a groundbreaking concert, but a demonstration of generational power and political change. What Jimi Hendrix had in mind exactly as he played “The Star Spangled Banner” in the early morning and waning hours of the festival to the tired crowd is unknown. But what he did was tear at the fabric of an already tattered American flag, weakened by ongoing racism, a war that was destroying the young men of his generation, and the high costs of street violence, drugs, greed, and apathy. He blows the anthem apart, then reconstructs it and sends it out into the sky. Message heard.

The bravery, humanity, and strength shown by the members of the NYPD, Port Authority, and NYFD on September 11, 2001 was something no American can or should forget. Those three words cannot in any way convey strongly enough what those named did for the city and its people that day, and days, weeks, months, and years after the terrorist attack. For all they knew – for all the world knew –New York City, America, everything, was going to end that day. For some, it did. I have never seen anything like the resolve of those professionals, staying to help those in need in such overwhelming and dire circumstances. None finer. None.

A few weeks later, a benefit concert was held in New York City, arranged by Paul McCartney. In the audience were many of the surviving NYPD/FD, as well as family of those who were lost, holding up photographs of those known to have died, and those who could never be found. The Who in this performance of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” perfectly provides the audience with a place to put rage, grief, and redemption. Daltrey’s scream in the song would never be more felt. It was bassist John Entwistle’s last American performance with the Who before he died eight months later.

The news is filled daily with American heartaches: deep political divisions, people who want to work and cannot find work, corruption and cruelty and inequity. Yet still, I am grateful to be an American citizen. I know what we are, what we are not, and what we can be, what is possible. And this, to me, is beautiful.