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Old July 9th, 2007, 02:17 PM
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Default God Bless America

The board censors don’t seem to have much to do these days, so I thought I’d get their adrenaline going by posting some thoughts that have both religious and political overtones. So read fast; this could disappear at any minute. . .

Yesterday afternoon I was watching the Washington Nationals baseball game. As do a number of teams on Sundays, they had somebody sing God Bless America. The young lady who sang it was an employee of the team, and she did a nice job.

It got me thinking back to the days after 9/11, when the song was used as a focal point for our grief and our anger. It was sung everywhere, from funerals to firehouses. The Yankees discovered an amateur tenor—a New York cop if I remember right—who they trotted out to sing it at virtually every game. The guy had pretty good chops, but I thought that his approach to the song was all wrong. As did so many others back then, he sang it defiantly, hitting every top note very hard, with lockstep tempo and jutted chin. It was God Bless America—in your face!

That approach was certainly understandable. We were angry and we let it show in myriad ways. But then I got thinking about the man who wrote the song, the Russian immigrant son of a Jewish cantor and sidewalk greengrocer who grew up on the tough streets of New York’s lower East side. His name was Israel Baline, and after his hardscrabble youth he went on to write some pretty good songs. He also changed his name to Irving Berlin.

Most songs can be arranged in dozens of different ways, so after hearing the bombastic post-9/11 renditions I got to wondering what was on Berlin’s mind when he wrote it in those uncertain days when World War II loomed. Here was an immigrant who’d spent his youth in what we’d call gangs, then lived the American Dream before we even invented the term. The “land that I love? for him was his adopted land—the one with the lady in the harbor who had made good on her promise.

Surely the song he wrote was not meant to be sung defiantly. It was not meant to divide, not to confront, not to boast. It was an expression of humble, grateful praise in the face of clear and present danger.

Not long after 9/11 Rosemary Clooney gave what would turn out to be her last concert. It was in Hawaii, and it was recorded. Her final song was God Bless America. The truly great singers like Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Rosie have been able to keep performing long after their vocal powers diminish for one simple reason: they’ve always understood their music. Rosie understood God Bless America. She sang it quietly and thoughtfully, with exquisite phrasing that really lets us understand it, and then she asked the audience to sing it with her. After that she left the stage, forever.

My ruminations about God Bless America are, of course, allegorical. In our great land today we find ourselves singing all our songs defiantly. We live in a land of confrontation and division—with each other and with the rest of the world. Even though we still sing God Bless America, we often do it hubristically, in a way that has turned us against each other and against our worldwide brotherhood, whether the subject is politics, war, immigration, stem cells, or yes, even religion.

Listen to Rosie sing God Bless America, and remember the grateful immigrant who wrote it. Then think for a moment how we might better arrange the songs of our life.


Rosemary Clooney: The Last Concert (Concord Records)
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Old July 9th, 2007, 02:38 PM
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Default God Bless America

What a nice tribute! In Los Angeles, we currently have an evening with Irving Berln, a one-man show. I didn't see it in the paper today, though.

Thanks for the history on a song we take for granted.

Judy
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Old July 9th, 2007, 03:13 PM
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AR:

Excellent post. I might only disagree with you slightly in that i LOVED the way the tenor cop sang it. Maybe I'm a little biased because of my profession but the guy just blew me away with it. You never expected that eveyday looking uniformed officer to walk up and belt it out like that. I'd love to have a recording of it. I think I read awhile back he wasn't with the NYPD much longer after that and pursued a singing career...smart man! lol.

You're right, everything has its time in history. The way he sang it might have been a little "in your face" but it was (and still is I think in many ways) a time when we needed to be in some faces. No matter how one feels about Bush, the war and everything else, he was often accused at that time of being too much of a cowboy...In my humble opinion, we needed some cowboy right about then no matter who the president happened to be...What's wrong with cowboys anyway? lol.

The last thing I want to do is start some political battle on here ( I know you don't either) or some lonnng debate about the war etc, but I do think, as a country, we've kind of slowly rocked ourselves back to that pre 911 sleep...Sadly, I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we get hit again and, I'm afraid, hit harder than anyone might be able to imagine. Americans are the best but we sometimes have short term memories. We need to brace ourselves for next time and the average American may have to to make some sacrifices other than sticking an American flag on the back window of their car with the laughable notion that it makes them more patriotic somehow...Even those flags have mostly disappeared these past few years as we've drifted back to sleep.

I'm not sure if it's ever been discussed on here but we all need to keep in mind, I think, that our common interest (cruising) could well be a target at some point again. From what little I've heard, the ships are quietly more prepared than the public sees. Hope that is true. Last suggestion for everyone then I'll get off my soapbox....Think about visiting the USO web site and send a care package to a soldier overseas....It will cost you about what three margaritas will on your next cruise...We worry so much on here about what to tip our room maid and wait staff on a cruise...How about giving something back to the military folks who make it possible for us to sail, stuff our faces and otherwise overindulge ourselves on the vactions we tell ourselves we "deserve" so much. Stepping down now!!
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Old July 9th, 2007, 03:38 PM
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speaking of post 9/11 song renditions, nothing beats what Lee Greenwood did at the World Series that year when he sang his God Bless the USA.

That was just an unforgettable moment.

And those of us in Phoenix apologize for beating the Yankees that year.
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Old July 9th, 2007, 06:29 PM
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I have a dream wish to sing it at a ballpark someday.
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Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

Courage and perserverance have a magical talisman; before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into the air.

Pick your company wisely! Hang around people who are going to help you become all God created you to be.
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Old July 9th, 2007, 08:23 PM
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The lovely Mrs. Jones (Vita) and I sailed the "Century" one week after 9/11, and the main performer aboard the ship at that time was Mark Preston, who was with the Lettermen. He sand "God Bless the U.S.A." and there wasn't a dry eye in the room What a beautiful performance!
In any case, I love that song, and of course "God Bless America". Rosie does it the best, but I loved the way the NYPD Cop did it as well. In your face?,,,yes,,,but I agree we may have needed to have it performed that way,,,at that time.

Ken
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