Patriotism knows no partisanship. Patriotism is that warmth we can all feel in moments when we’re particularly proud to be living where we live. In addition to being a proud and free nation, the United States of America has always been a nation built on romantic ideals. Cultural touchstones ranging from stories of brave pioneers protecting what’s theirs to the iconography of the Old West, have been part of America’s identity for centuries.
Such romantic imagery has inspired great art, and yes, song too. In fact, if you’ve been to an air show or municipal fireworks display since the turn of the century, then you are sure to have heard the greatest hits of American patriotic music. It means you’re familiar with Lee Greenwood’s, “God Bless the U.S.A.”
And I’m proud to be an American
Where at least I know I’m free
And I won’t forget the ones who died
Who gave that right to me
And I gladly stand up next to you
And defend her still today
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land
God Bless the U.S.A.
That chorus alone is known to cause pandemic-level outbreaks of goosebumps, poor lip-synching, and involuntary patriotism. Silly grammatical choices aside, this song may as well have been created in a laboratory for the express purpose of bringing joyful catharsis to mass gatherings of US citizens.
Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas. Detroit, Houston, N.Y., L.A. Greenwood laced the second verse with the names of states and cities that represented America’s diverse geography, iconic locales, and economic lifeblood.
Greenwood, a popular country music artist since the early eighties, sure does love America. He had always wanted to put these feelings into song, penning his signature anthem in 1983. The song was then released on his 1984 album You’ve Got a Good Love Comin’.
Believe it or not, “God Bless the U.S.A..” was not an overnight sensation in 1984. Sure, it peaked at #7 on the country music charts, but that’s hardly a footnote for Greenwood, who ended up with seven #1 singles to his name, two coming prior to “God Bless the U.S.A.”
The song became associated with the second term of the Regean Administration, playing at the 1984 Republican National Convention. It surged in popularity during the Gulf War at the outset of the nineties. But the song’s legacy was not yet set in stone. That came in the wake of the tragedy of 9/11. As Americans, we were reeling and didn’t know which way was up. Lee Greenwood was there for us, providing moments like this one:
On paper, “God Bless the U.S.A.,” can seem insufferably cheesy and earnest. It’s not the lyrical bravura that typically holds up to criticism, but when Greenwood’s magnum opus swells to the chorus, it has the power to move us all in unexpected ways. You can see it on the faces of people in the video. Maybe it’s the frank honesty of a song coming from an artist who wears his heart on his sleeve. Maybe, no matter how we interpret the news and events of the day, this song awakens the part of us, deep down, that knows how lucky we are to live in a country that has been so vigorously defended throughout its relatively brief history.
Greenwood’s love letter has stoked the patriotic spirit of four generations, and counting. I think that’s a legacy Greenwood can be proud of.