July 22, 2018

The 82nd Airborne’s “God Bless America” and a reverence for liberty

82nd Airborne sings Irving Berlin's God Bless America

The 82nd Airborne’s beautiful recording of Irving Berlin’s God Bless America, reminds us that reverence for liberty is at the heart of American patriotism.

Irving Berlin’s family came to American in 1893, when he was five, leaving behind forever the ethnic, genocidal pogroms that destroyed his family home in Russia. His only memory of his time in Russia was of hiding in the woods as Russians torched his family home for the “crime of being Jewish.”

Berlin’s family settled in New York’s Lower East Side, which was then the most densely populated spot in the world. At 13, his formal education ended when Berlin became a singing waiter to help support his family. The rest, of course, is American musical history. I’ll just note here that he was one of the few members of the great American Songbook who wrote both music and lyrics.

I happen to love Irving Berlin’s music. The melodies are accessible, but not simplistic, and the lyrics are incredibly sophisticated, all the more so when you consider the “English-as-a-second-language” and “almost-no-formal-schooling” issues in Irving Berlin’s life. Look at the vocabulary choices and the internal rhyme schemes in this verse from Lazy:

Under that awning
They call the sky
Stretching and yawning
And let the world go drifting by

I want to peep
Through the deep
Tangled wildwood
Counting sheep
’til I sleep
Like a child would

With a great big valise full
Of books to read where it’s peaceful
While I’m
Killing time
Being lazy

By way of contrast, here are some lyrics from Child Gambino’s This is America:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away

Okay, I’m kidding. That’s just the pre-chorus. Let me select a verse:

This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo)
Don’t catch you slippin’ now (ayy)
Look how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now (woo)
Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy)
Guns in my area (word, my area)
I got the strap (ayy, ayy)
I gotta carry ’em
Yeah, yeah, I’ma go into this (ugh)
Yeah, yeah, this is guerilla (woo)
Yeah, yeah, I’ma go get the bag
Yeah, yeah, or I’ma get the pad
Yeah, yeah, I’m so cold like, yeah (yeah)
I’m so dope like, yeah (woo)
We gon’ blow like, yeah (straight up, uh)

Speaking of this being America, Irving Berlin had something to say on the matter too. In 1918, he wrote God Bless America for a soldiers’ show in WWI, but decided it hit too close to him (by which I mean his own heartfelt love for his adopted country, which he wasn’t yet comfortable with ripping open for an audience). By WWII, though, with Western liberty facing a cataclysmic existential threat, Irving Berlin dusted that old song off, making it Kate Smith’s biggest hit.

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Contrast Berlin’s lyrics with Gambino’s — and I mean contrast at every level: vocabulary, rhyme structure, sophistication and, of course, patriotism:

God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home sweet home.

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:

God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,

God bless America,
My home sweet home.
God bless America,
My home sweet home.

Although the lyrics aren’t complicated, there’s nothing simplistic about Berlin’s reverence for America. He loved America; although not a religious man (he married a Christian woman) he recognized that America was a nation steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition; and he placed his entire faith in a country dedicated to liberty.

Make no mistake though — Berlin understood America’s imperfections. Anyway who was raised in the Lower East Side and who was a Jew in a pre-politically correct, pre-Holocaust age, understand poverty, racial hatred, and economic inequality. But he also understand that the world had never offered any better chance to people from all places, from all walks of life, and from all belief systems, to “make it.”

Irving Berlin was proud of that song and sang it with every bit of his heart and soul (and gave all the proceeds to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization that no longer exists):

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And yes, there’s a reason for the above waffle. One hundred years after Berlin first penned his love letter to America, the men and women of the 82nd Airborne have recorded a breathtaking version of that same song:

If anyone understands and reveres liberty and the never-ending price we pay to preserve it, it’s got to be the 82nd Airborne.

Also, if you go here, the same 82nd Airborne singing crew did a lovely version of Amazing Grace.

Long-term readers may recall that I’ve commented before about Irving Berlin’s longevity as a culture maker. He never gets old.

About Bookworm 811 Articles
Bookworm came late to conservativism but embraced it with passion. She's been blogging since 2004 about anything that captures her fancy -- and that's usually politics. Her blog's motto is "Conservatives deal with facts and reach conclusions; liberals have conclusions and sell them as facts."

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