Why do we do this? Because John Adams told us to. He pegged it at July 2, 1776, but nonetheless called an Independence Day celebration of “Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
There. The president of the United States, and second cousin of the guy after whom they named a brewery, wants you to party in celebration of the successful formation of the United States of America. He could have gotten hanged had it not worked out.
While not the party animal I once was, I nonetheless spend some time thinking, this time every year, about what we’re doing. It’s a summer holiday, essentially requiring outdoor activity, and that means interacting with other citizens, and that’s something we have not experienced lately for reasons distinctly independent from independence. You can get a deal on a mattress or a car, but that’s largely because the holiday offers a day off from work for most people, an extra day to shop.
I have read the Federalist Papers, the essays of the Founding Fathers used as first drafts to the Constitution of 1787. Honest — I was a history major in college — and there’s nothing in there about how strippers are practicing their First Amendment rights to free speech in the course of their careers, but that’s another story. I thus have some inkling about how these guys thought, as well as some knowledge about founding a democracy, if anyone needs a constitution written.
They knew that freedom meant different things, and that it is not within the purview of government — or church, or your high school guidance counselor — to define it for you. That’s what the Bill of Rights, an addendum to the Constitution, was all about: all the stuff the government could not do to you.
Whatever radio station you prefer is bound to toss in their idea of patriotic music this weekend. Be aware that the Guess Who’s “American Woman” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” are not as complimentary to the United States as you may first believe. Without naming names, I could easily identify musical drivel masquerading as patriotism, songs composed simply to get tears flowing in the eyes of some Americans.
I know where to look for inspirational music, this time of year. The way we honor John Adams’ call to get rowdy on July 4, I look to the roots of what has kept me going through what life has aimed at me, and by that I mean a rapidly going-out-of-style genre called rock and roll.
Tell me if this describes your attitude, on any day not handed you as a holiday:
“Superhighways, coast to coast, easy takin’ anywhere. On the transcontinental overload, just slide behind the wheel. How does it feel when there’s no destination that’s too far?”
It goes on to say that “Somewhere on the way you might find out who you are” and references “You might have to walk a fine line, you might take a hard line, but everybody’s working … overtime.”
Pardon the cultural appropriation, but that’s James Brown, from “Livin’ in America.” He knew a few things about working overtime. So have you, I’ll bet.
If you can appreciate that one, consider this, in which the narrator has recently been “jet propelled back home, from overseas to the U.S.A.”
“I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A. Anything you want, we got right here in the U.S.A.”
That’s from Chuck Berry, a founding father if ever there was one. His song “Livin’ in the U.S.A.” concentrated on the absence of skyscrapers, the sizzle of hamburgers and records in the jukebox while “overseas,” but the spirit is the same: optimism, hard work, the occasional misstep on the road to happiness. Just the same, this country offers anything you want.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the final version of the Declaration of Independence, which was ratified by his radical pals on July 4, 1776. It was basically a bill of divorce — 13 colonies vs. Great Britain — but it contains that memorable, flexible, somehow misunderstood yet perfectly understood phrase about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” John Adams got the idea. So did James Brown and Chuck Berry.
Likely so do you, if you’re a citizen of this incredible country. Have a good holiday.