Like many of us, I watched the sickening images from the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, then I watched the benefit concert that she and other musicians played after the dust had settled a bit. The spunk and attitude from the mostly young girls who are Grande’s fan base was inspiring, and I was moved by her closing rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’. I’ve played or heard that song being played a million times, usually in positive and happy settings, but the sweet and kind of naïve lyrics will never be the same for me. It is, of course, from the 1939 movie “Wizard of Oz”, and was sung by a young Judy Garland about 5 minutes into the film when she’s trying to tell her aunt and uncle about a bad experience she had with the local mean old spinster.
She’s told to “Find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble.” So Dorothy says to her little dog, “Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by boat, or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain…..somewhere over the rainbow…..” A lovely song full of youthful innocence, is now an anthem because of an ugly thing. A profound and sad loss of innocence. It did get me thinking about how songs become anthems—and I figure I should fess up to my anthem experience.
No, I’m not gonna spill any beans about horn players or what goes on backstage or what happens inside a lead singers head. I haven’t managed to figure that one out anyway. But I do admit to being a baseball Suzie and a lifetime fan and wannabe ballplayer. My sports glory days consist of a short stint playing 2nd base for a female fast-pitch team out of Telluride, Colorado, called the “Master Batters”. Seriously. I’m friends with Ron Swoboda, who made the famous winning catch for the Miracle Mets in the 1969 World Series, and years ago he got me a gig playing the national anthem at a New Orleans Zephyrs game. I was beyond excited—they gave me a cool Zephyrs jersey to wear, my name was up on the big scoreboard, and I stood at home plate playing my violin into some kind of mega microphone. I figured I’d never get another shot at this, so I decided to milk my moment in baseball history by launching into a whacked out Jimi Hendrix version of our national anthem. It never occurred to me that people wouldn’t be able to sing along—but after about 10 seconds the voices just kind of dwindled off as they gave up in confusion. My friends listening to the game live on the radio said even they could sense how awkward it was, though they thought I played ok. Later I felt like a self-indulgent jerk, and begged Ron to give me another chance—which they did a year or so later. I didn’t get another cool jersey, but they did let me sit in the booth and call the game with Ron. I learned a good lesson—just play the damn song straight, ‘cause folks like to sing along to the important songs in their lives. Anthems!
Usually anthems are rousing and uplifting songs that are identified with a particular place, or a particular group of people, cause, or point of view. For churchgoers, anthems are usually sung by a choir and often use quotes from the Bible to praise and spread the joy of their convictions and faith. There are anthems that we identify with political or human causes—like ‘We Shall Overcome’ or Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’. Anthems help rally like-minded people together, and they usually repeat some kind of simple message or mantra. One of the greatest of all folk anthems is Woodie Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land’, where Guthrie took the existing melody from a Carter Family tune called ‘When the World’s On Fire’, and wrote new, more inclusive lyrics to it. It was 1940 and Guthrie was tired of hearing Kate Smith’s rendition of the Irving Berlin song ‘God Bless America’ on the radio, so he sarcastically wrote ‘God Blessed America for Me’, later renaming it ‘This Land is Your Land’. Keep in mind that this was the McCarthy era of censorship and suspicion, and several of Guthrie’s original protest verses were left out or lost, although his son Arlo and Pete Seeger later included them in their performances. Here’s two particularly timely verses that most people probably have never heard:
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property’. But on the back side, it didn’t say nothin’. This land was made for you and me. One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office I saw my people. As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.
Lots of songs seem to have kind of morphed into anthems—that’s the case with many of our rock anthems, like the Rolling Stones singing ‘Satisfaction’ or the Who’s ‘My Generation’. Queen really scored with the songs ‘We Are the Champions’ and ‘We Will Rock You’. Kiss will forever be known for the song ‘Rock and Roll All Night’, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts song ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ will be sung long after folks have forgotten who wrote it or originally recorded it. There are a bunch of songs that are a little more light-hearted and which pay homage to summer freedom and fun, and those California musicians are the best at penning songs we all want to sing along to. Pretty much anything the Beach Boys played falls into that category, and of course the Eagles are unequaled at writing lyrics that will be rattling around in our brains till our dyin’ day. The Beach Boys gave us ‘California Girls’, ‘Good Vibrations’, ‘Surfin’ USA’, ‘I Get Around’, ‘Fun Fun Fun’, ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice’ and ‘Help Me Rhonda’, amongst their many contributions. The Eagles concerts are full of sing-alongs like ‘Life In the Fast Lane’, ‘Take it Easy’, ‘Take It to the Limit’, ‘One of Those Nights’, ‘Lyin’ Eyes’, ‘Tequila Sunrise’, ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’, ‘Wasted Time’, ‘Desperado’, ‘Hotel California’ and ‘Boys of Summer’. “I can tell you my love for you will still be strong, after the boys of summer have gone…”
Then there’s my old boss Jimmy Buffett, who has had a great career writing about escaping to an island somewhere and drinking rum and sailing wherever the wind takes you. To witness 20,000 people with stupid parrots on their heads, $15 pink drinks in their hands, and credit cards in their wallets all singing along to ‘Let’s Get Drunk and Screw’—well, it’s a sight to behold. He gave hope to all the folks stuck in mundane jobs in cold or boring places that they too could have a carefree life of lying in a hammock sipping a tropical libation with lots of booze and fruit. And maybe a little umbrella. Whether it’s being ‘Wasted Again in Margaritaville’ or eating a ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’ or daytime drinking ‘cause it’s ‘5:OO Clock Somewhere’—he’s selling a lifestyle of soft summer breezes and love under a palm tree. ‘Course nowadays he’s selling condos with wheel chair ramps and golf carts to his aging audience, who are likely to be wearing ‘A White Sportcoat and a Pink Crustacian’. As he said in his beautiful song ‘Come Monday’, “Mother mother ocean, I have heard you call. I wanted to sail upon your waters since I was 3 feet tall. You’ve seen it all—you’ve seen it all.” He can certainly write memorable, if kind of silly, lyrics. “My head hurts, my feet stink and I don’t love Jesus. It’s that kind of morning, really was that kind of night.” I’ll leave you with his slightly more profound thoughts:
It’s those changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothin’ remains quite the same. With all of our running and all of our cunning, if we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane!
Amen to that.
Please get out and listen to live music here in our little corner of the world! Hold up your lighters (oops, now it’s cell phones) and sing along to the anthems of our times and ‘Don’t Stop Believing!’ I’ll be playing with Ben Jammin’ and the Howlers every Friday night at the beautiful and spacious Roca Verde in Dominical, and there’s live music at Dos Locos in Quepos on Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons. Check out country artist Ralph Simms playing around in Quepos! There’s several live music venues in Dominical, like Fuegos Brew pub, the Rum Bar, Por Que No and the new Phat Noodle. Further south in Ojochol there’s the Bamboo Room and a couple of new places that have live music, so call around and find out what’s going on! We totally appreciate you guys that get out in the rain in pursuit of live music!
The way I see it, if you want the rainbow you gotta put up with the rain. Dolly Parton
Sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching, and live like it’s heaven on earth. Mark Twain
Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. From the song Over the Rainbow