7 Ways You Can (Artistically) Say "America, Fuck Yeah!"
Today is Independence Day. To that end, we have included here a guide to celebrate this nation at its best in various art forms. Have a blast.
July 3, 2015
The Blockbuster*: Invasion USA, starring Chuck Norris
In honor of this Independence Day, we take you back to a simpler time — 1985, when Chuck Norris saves this beautiful country from its greatest threat: 10,000 Russian terrorists. Invasion USA is a rocket launcher-fueled film of explosive proportions. Norris is just another regular Joe/former Green Beret airboat captain (the movie’s opening credits roll over a shirtless Norris piloting an airboat) until he’s forced to take up arms and defend his home against comically large car explosions and bad accents. This movie achieves the greatest goal of all: Activating every American citizen’s freedom boner. Rock, Flag, and Eagle!
The Novel: American Pastoral, by Philip Roth
Originally, I had another, lesser-known Roth here — Henry, whose modernist masterpiece Call It Sleep performs pitch-perfect imitations of the dialects and languages of New York in the early 20th century, and is a masterful rendering of growing up in an America full of hope but also a deep and profound dark. Instead, in the wake of a week full of political decisions that ask that we, the people, truly learn to accept and respect each other as we are, I’ll let the Homer of Newark hammer home how hard that truly is: “You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong.”
The Non-Fiction: The White Album, by Joan Didion
Chicago is inundated with Deadheads this Independence Day weekend, and I find myself turning to Joan Didion’s The White Album in an attempt to revisit and understand the era these fans still inhabit. Written in the late 60s and 70s, Didion led the life of independent, headstrong, well-connected American woman. To read her essays is to truly get a sense of what occupied American thought, in all its nuanced confusion and conflict, as the country turned 200.
The Comic: Southern Bastards, by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
Few regions in this country invoke the idea of America as much as the South, and yet much of the nation often seems reluctant to engage with it unless forced to. The exception to this, of course, has always been prose fiction: Twain and Faulkner, Russell and McBride. And now, comics books. Southern Bastards is a conflicted book about a conflicted place, ostensibly about a few of us but really about us all. It’s bleak crime fiction that wraps its ugliness with a pathos that is as American as it is universal — where sons strive to become men unlike their fathers, and young people bleed for a chance at escaping their hometown, only to be pulled crashing back.
The Photos: The Americans, by Robert Frank
Documentary photography in the 1950s and 1960s was transparent and simple: Click the shutter and there lies the truth. Robert Frank’s The Americans took that idea and ripped it to shreds. A Swiss-born photographer looking in at all the aspects — good and bad — of American life, Robert Frank made images that were emotional and reactionary, photographs that questioned the scene at hand. Though it was hardly well received in its time, there’s no doubt that The Americans has gone on to inspire generations of photographers to go out and capture their own American landscape.
The R&B Album: Young Americans, by David Bowie
One remarkable thing about our nation is how its homegrown sound presents itself as a model for international hitmakers — especially when one of them is David Bowie. With the release of Young Americans (1975) — marking a severe departure from his powerfully eccentric Ziggy Stardust persona — the Thin White Duke adopted the rhythms of Philly soul to help him deliver a catchy narrative on Americana. Most notably, on the title track, Bowie captures U.S. tensions from the previous two decades line by line as he alludes to the rise of McCarthyism, Rosa Parks’ emblematic bus ride and the resignation of President Nixon. While observing American history on this album, Bowie also managed to create a decent chunk of it, launching the solo career of backup vocalist Luther Vandross (yes, that Luther Vandross) and performing on Soul Train as one of the first white artists to appear on the African American music program.
The Folk-Rock Song: “Box of Rain,” from American Beauty, by the Grateful Dead
You’d be hard-pressed to find another song written by a son to his dying father about the rain that sounds as cheerful as this one. With “Box of Rain,” the first of ten gems on a near-perfect record, The Dead accomplished not just that, but a working metaphor for all of the stressors that plague our lives, and the song still fills discussion forums and Netflix queues even today. A wonderful introduction to not sweating it, “Box of Rain” is popping a beer on a sunny Saturday and savoring each sip. If that isn’t America, what is?
*Ed. note: Just so you know we didn’t forget it, the runner up was obviously Independence Day.