Not so much a conceptual piece this time around as a practical musical tool, designed to solve one of the many pressing problems of summertime.
You see, our local triple-A affiliate plays a home game every Independence Day, and a bunch of families (including mine) have made it a tradition to celebrate the holiday down at the ol’ ballyard. The food is good, there are silly stunts between innings to keep the kids entertained, and we get nine or more innings of thrilling baseball from a roster of up-and-comers — all for less than the price of a first-run movie. That’s the promise of America in action, right there.
But it’s the big event after the game that I both love and dread — because it wouldn’t be the Fourth of July without fireworks. When the final out is tallied, the grounds crew clears the diamond and an onfield emcee works the crowd while, in the background, a team of pyrotechnic experts puts up several installations that look like miniature mortar batteries. Then the house lights dim and the left-field video-wall lights up with scenic vistas as the voice of John Wayne intones ”America — Why I Love Her“ on the sound system. And then, as the Duke’s reverberating growl fades, the first pot Á feu sizzles to life and the thundering drums of the E Street Band herald the start of the fireworks display.
That’s my cue to spend the next twenty to thirty minutes enjoying the hell out of the pyro itself while positively cringing at the soundtrack.
The music is the same every year, and it is awful. It’s a half-cooked stew of out-of-context snippets, mostly choruses, seemingly edited together by a moonlighting butcher using duct tape and a meat cleaver, drawing from the usual roster of outdated tunes — mainly chart hits of the Eighties that namecheck AMERICA!!, chosen based on the most superficial of listenings — and all garbled together into a hideous zombie simulacrum of flag-waving excitement. After that glaringly-inappropriate Springsteen chant, we get a dollop of lesser James Brown, not one but two refrains from John Mellencamp, and a tonally-incongruous chorus from X, among others, before climaxing with that ghastly Lee Greenwood song. It’s enough to make a man yearn for Katy Perry, but even that would be too hip for this exercise.
I’ve suffered through this for years. But now, I’ve come up with a solution in the best American activist tradition. We are a proud people; we will not stand for tyranny, either by malicious monarchs or by shitty tin-eared music programmers. This indignity calls for some straight-up culture jamming. If you don’t like the media, as the saying goes, make your own. That’s why this year, when the lights go down, I’ll be tuning out the stadium PA, slipping in my earbuds, and watching the pyro show to the accompaniment of this custom-crafted soundtrack.
If you’re spending the Fourth watching fireworks, you can feel free to do the same.
Because feeling free, my friends, is what America’s all about.
Like the terrible medley it is meant to replace, this mix is less a playlist than a montage, made up exclusively of snippets, loops, and extracts. If you’re intrigued by something you hear, I encourage you to seek out the full original versions of these tracks.
Music For Fireworks (30:26)
This piece includes extracts from the following works:
Random — Gary Numan
The Star-Spangled Banner (live at Woodstock) — Jimi Hendrix
Kids In America — Kim Wilde
Fire On High — Electric Light Orchestra
Yankee Go Home — Richard Thompson
Sparks — The Who
Blast Off! — The Monks
America (Second Amendment) — The Nice
The American (extended remix) — Simple Minds
The Dynamite Lady — Big Country
Skyrocket — Aura
America, Fuck Yeah! — Team America: World Police soundtrack
Big Bang Baby — Stone Temple Pilots
I Feel Free — Cream
The National Anthem — Radiohead
The Stars and Stripes Forever — Jean-Jacques Perrey and Dana Countryman
coda: Fourth of July — U2
Next year, I might include a recording of Allen Ginsberg reading ”America” to drown out the John Wayne, too.
That’s about it for this time. Hope you’ve enjoyed this switch-up in the format! If you find it useful, let us know in the comments.
Speaking of John Wayne (sort of) — I’ll be back at the end of the month with audio impressions of the novel and film True Grit. While you’re waiting for that, Zack Dennis returns two weeks from now, with an imaginary soundtrack for Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Until then, keep your ears open — but don’t let The Man tell you what you’ve got to put in ’em.