American Tune

I always listen to music walking to and from work.  This evening, as I was listening to my acoustic playlist, it struck me that American Tune by Paul Simon — a beautiful song that is one of my favorites — pretty accurately captures how many people are feeling these days.  I’m not just talking about disappointed Hillary Clinton voters, either.  There seems to be a strong sense of disquiet, an unsettled feeling, mingled with curiosity, trepidation, raw hope, and uncertainty about what might happen next, lurking throughout the general populace.  Some of those feelings stem from the election results and the thought of Donald Trump as President, to be sure, but some of them also seem to flow from concerns about the direction of the country as a whole.  Where is our road leading?

American Tune, which was released in 1973, aptly crystallizes this odd mixture of emotions and sensations.  Simon wrote:

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

Two verses later, the song concludes, in a mixture of pride, doubt, fatigue, and resignation:

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

It says something about the universality of music when a song written at the end of the Nixon Administration can so perfectly express how so many Americans are feeling, 45 years later.

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One thought on “American Tune

  1. It wasn’t remotely written then, WB. Simon put a new, fine lyric to a tune that has been recycled over and over for more than 300 years! The earliest version we know of is a secular song by Hans Leo Hassler from the late 1500s, “Mein G’müt ist mir verwirret” (My disposition is confused.) In 1656 a religious lyric from the Middle Ages was set to Hassler’s tune, and we got the hymn we know in English as “O sacred head, now wounded”. JS Bach set new harmonies to this combination as a recurring chorale in his St. Matthew Passion in 1727.

    The song went through a few other settings until finally being re-adapted as an anthem of civil rights in the 1940s by Tom Glazer.

    In the old days, before sampling, good composers did a lot of what I call “elegant borrowing” of other people’s tunes, and Simon’s version is a
    good example.

    Liked by 1 person

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