The Patriotic Blues

Patriotic Blues

I come from a family of eight kids. When we get together we sing, usually parodies aimed at one sibling or another. But when I was about nine years old, my sister Liz (2 years older) and I composed a song that stemmed from a deep love of country. In the true American tradition, we wrote a protest song. We have our parents to thank for that.

Growing up in the early 1970’s with folks who were peace-loving, consciousness-raising, half-way hippies, taught me the value of dissent in a democracy. Don’t get me wrong. My parents did not subscribe to the free love monkey business of the hippy movement. None of that hanky-panky for Lois and Larry, but they definitely backed the “not war” part of “make love, not war.”

In 1971, my family had just returned from a three year stint in Uganda, and we were living on the third floor of my aunt and uncle’s house in St. Paul, Minnesota. The death toll from the Vietnam War was climbing, and Nixon and McGovern were slugging it out for president. In this tumultuous environment, Mom and Dad organized and marched and protested for a better world.  They often took me and Liz along. With ears and eyes wide open, we saw the power of the first amendment in action.

One summer night as Liz and I lay sweating in the double bed we shared in Aunt Josie’s and Uncle Will’s stuffy attic, we gave up trying to sleep and started singing.  I can’t recall the conversation that led us to compose our own version of one of America’s most patriotic hymns, but I’ve never forgotten the lyrics.  Our grasp on history was a bit slippery, but the lyrics prove how our young souls burned with the spirit that spawned the American Revolution.

Happy belated birthday, America.

“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”

My country tis of thee,

sweet land of poverty,

of thee we sing.

Land where my fathers died,

on Pilgrim’s Rock

they tried to ri-i-i-i-i-i-ise into the skies.

And when they did it,

they got into a fit ‘bout taxes.

They got so mad then,

the Civil War began,

and though many people tried,

they all died.

So all you peacemakers,

do not be traitors

to all our soldiers.

Get us out of this jam,

called Vietnam.

Get a president we can trust,

and get us out of this muss.