I missed posting this for Veterans Day, but want to catch up a little bit. “God Bless America” was introduced on Armistice Day in 1938, although it had been written twenty years earlier. The composer and lyricist, Irving Berlin, thought of it as a “peace song,” which makes more sense when you read the intro lyrics, generally omitted today but which Kate Smith always insisted on including:
While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so far, as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer…
“God Bless America” used to irritate me, when it got appropriated by Christian conservatives as a sort of alt-National Anthem, but it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. The lyrics, always Berlin’s weakest side, are still corny and trite; the tired trotting out of mountains-prairies-oceans is lazy, and since when are oceans “white with foam”? Only when there’s been an environmental disaster, I suppose. But you have to give the song credit for great singability and the masterful pop-song flow that rises to a high note and forte on that last “God.” It’s a well-built tune.
The only thing that irritates me nowadays about “God Bless America” is the air of faux piety with which people sing it. It’s a song that I wish could be put in a vault for a couple of decades, and then brought out again when it could be experienced fresh, without the layers of sanctimonious muck that have accreted on it over the years.