‘Tis the time of year for patriotic songs, so I’m confessing: I hate “God Bless the U.S.A.”
Here are the lyrics (with my observations):
- 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. OK so far so good….it’s a fairly generic opening, though oddly enough with no clue as to the patriotic message to come. A curiously downbeat view of the future, but hey, who am I to read minds?
- 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. Thundering non sequitur! How does the flag have anything to do with your unexplained bad fortune? And who is the unnamed “they” here? Pronoun reference! Not to mention the squinting pronoun “that”….is it the flag or freedom?
- And I’m proud to be an American,
- where at least I know I’m free. “At least?” Badly misused phrase here. We use “at least” to indicate a bare minimum. “At least you’ve got your health,” etc. But wouldn’t freedom be more than the bare minimum of why one should be proud to be an American? OK, maybe I’m splitting hairs here….I’ll move on.
- And I wont forget the men who died,
- who gave that right to me. I’m assuming “that right” is referring to “freedom” although the reference is rather distant.
- And I gladly stand up,
- next to you and defend her still today. Mmmmm, is it bad taste to point out that men who died can’t stand up? Even a casual figure of speech needs to make sense.
- ‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land, Has someone been doubting it? There’s a weirdly defensive quality to this line.
- God bless the USA.
- From the lakes of Minnesota,
- to the hills of Tennessee.
- Across the plains of Texas,
- From sea to shining sea.
- From Detroit down to Houston,
- and New York to L.A. The old geographic catalog device. Has there ever been a sorrier catalog of line-filling cliches than this? I mean come on, he even appropriates the “sea to shining sea” line. Lakes, hills, plains, and the ever-popular “New York to LA.” The advantage is that the long e and long a are the easiest vowels to rhyme in English, so you can write this kind of stuff in your sleep.
- Well there’s pride in every American’s heart,
- and its time we stand and say. Again the odd tone–vaguely scolding us now. An envisioned future of loss, resentment of an unspecified “they,” the defensive stance against doubters, and now the implication that most people aren’t as patriotic as the writer is…..I get the feeling that it’s not so much a celebration of America as an exercise in protest-too-much.
- (Repeat chorus twice) In case you didn’t get the point with the first repetition. As a writer, I believe that sloppy writing reveals sloppy thinking, and this song is a classic example. In a few days, I’ll compare it with “Defence of Fort McHenry,” which we know today as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” just to make the point that a patriotic song can also be a good piece of writing.