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Monday, September 27, 2004

The evolution of song lyrics, and smugness: American and Irish

In March of 1997 my wife and I returned to Boston, after living for almost a year in Sandymount, in Dublin. We were married in May of 1996 and went off on a great adventure. I wanted more than just that, but of course realities like money and missed family got in the way. I have thought, and written, and sung so much as a result of that return and the trauma of it that by this time I feel guilty to harp on it. In fact, I don’t. But some songs that I wrote during that period after our return stick with me.

One is Back In Ireland (lyrics to follow.) Among other things, I tried to address that particular smugness of certain Americans certain that the U.S. is the “best country on earth”. I happen to agree in a general sense, but the attitude rankles in two possible ways:

It comes from an American on tour, in Ireland or elsewhere, who can’t see the forest for the trees. Amidst the possibilities of a different culture, a different place, just an exciting difference, this American only finds confirmation of the deficiencies of the place: the water pressure, the beer temp, the hotel accommodations, the newspapers, etc. It’s not exactly that some of these things might be actually inferior, (certainly not by this point in time in a place like Ireland—water pressure and the like are complaints of a generation ago or more), but that they are just that: different. The height of provincialism is to travel, to encounter difference, and to find it deficient because it’s “not like that back home.”
The second instance of course is much easier to rip: the good old-fashioned myopic “America’s the best, because someone said so once and I’ve been thoughtlessly repeating it for so long that I believe it without question.” This attitude you don’t need to leave the States to find, and for full ironic impact it’s better encountered “at home.” I love hearing the “we’re the best” slogan from people who have been to Orlando more times than I, for sure, but are a bit lacking in first-hand experience of anywhere else that we are “better than.”

This is the smugness, American style.


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