Saturday, 18 March 2017

Everybody Loves Me, Baby

Lately I've found myself singing this little gem to myself as I go about my business.



Unless you've been under a rock for the whole of the last 46 years you would surely have heard Don McLean's 'American Pie', his cryptic song about late 60s rock music and the death of Buddy Holly.  You've probably also heard 'Vincent', a beautiful tribute to Vincent Van Gogh.  However, you could be forgiven for not having heard this song, which appears on the same album.

It's funny reading about it on the internet because so many reviewers fail to see what it's about, suggesting it's about an ego-driven singer or self-centred lover.  You have to wonder if they actually listened to it.  Perhaps they are so mesmerised by the album's title track that everything else just goes straight over their heads.  Or perhaps it's true that Americans just don't get irony.

Fortune has me well in hand, 
Armies wait at my command
My gold lies in a foreign land 
Buried deep beneath the sand
The angels guide my ev'ry tread, 
My enemies are sick or dead
But all the victories I've led 
Haven't brought you to my bed

You see, everybody loves me, baby, 
What's the matter with you?
Won't ya tell me what did I do to offend you?

Now the purest race I've bred for thee 
To live in my democracy
And the highest human pedigree 
Awaits the first-born boy baby
And my face on ev'ry coin engraved, 
The anarchists are all enslaved
My own flag is forever waved 
By the grateful people I have saved

Now, no land is beyond my claim 
When the land is seized in the people's name
By evil men who rob and maim, 
If war is hell, I'm not to blame!
Why, you can't blame me, I'm Heaven's child, 
I'm the second son of Mary mild
And I'm twice removed from Oscar Wilde, 
But he didn't mind, why, he just smiled

Yes, and the ocean parts when I walk through, 
And the clouds dissolve and the sky turns blue
I'm held in very great value 
By everyone I meet but you
'cause I've used my talents as I could, 
I've done some bad, I've done some good
I did a whole lot better than they thought I would 
So, c'mon and treat me like you should!

Because everybody loves me, baby, 
What's the matter with you?
Tell me what did I do to offend you?

In 1971, when this song was  released, Richard Nixon was US President and the US was mired in the Vietnam War.  Of course many Vietnamese were not too enamoured of the Americans, who kept bombing them and defoliating their jungles with Agent Orange.  Nor were the young Americans who were protesting against the war on the streets and at their various university campuses, trying in their clumsy idealistic way to build a world based on love not guns.

Not surprising that the song comes to mind in 2017, with Donald Trump in the White House and the US (along with its allies) mired in wars in both Iraq and Syria.  Trump shares Nixon's love of the use of force, his relentless conservatism, his paranoia and his rather casual acquaintance with the truth.  This week he announced his first budget, with cuts to health, welfare, education, environmental protection and overseas aid funding increased military spending and the absurd wall along the Mexican border.

Trump, like Nixon, talks about putting Americans first and suggests (although not in so many words) that if you don't love America you should leave it.  But his actual policies put his cronies first and sell Americans further down the river, leaving poor Americans poorer as well as reducing employment for professional Americans and making everyone live in the midst of worse pollution and ecological degradation.

Meanwhile, as a kind of compensation, they have more chances to enter military service where they could be killed in the various overseas engagements that Trump's sabre-rattling seems intent on provoking.  Which Americans will benefit?  No doubt defence contractors, construction companies (someone has to build that wall) fossil fuel companies and the big businesses whose taxes will be cut.  Including, of course, the Trump family.

Forty-six years after McLean wrote this song, Trump and the rest of the American establishment are still baffled at why everyone doesn't love them.  They are, after all, the fount of wealth and democracy, the guarantor of world peace, the benevolent master race which oversees our globe.

Yet just yesterday, we received news that a mosque in the Syrian village of Al-Jineh was hit by a mysterious air strike, killing 46 civilian worshippers.  In a typical piece of obfuscation, the US first denied that it was responsible for the attack, claiming that it merely coincidentally carried out an attack on Al Qaeda militants in a neighbouring village.  Later it confirmed that the strike which destroyed the mosque was indeed the same strike they were talking about earlier, but disputed the details of the story and promised to 'investigate all civilian casualties'.

This is not an isolated incident.  In January of this year, the US government acknowledged that 188 civilians had been killed since 2014 in its bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.  These are only the deaths for which the US has accepted responsibility.  Human rights groups put the total much higher.  UK based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented 399 civilian deaths in just one offensive.  Airwars, an independent monitoring operation, estimates the minimum number of civilian casualties caused by the coalition since the campaign started as 2,590 and still counting.

Now there may be excuses or even justifications for these deaths.  The figure may be higher or lower.  Some reports may be true, some may be exaggerated.  Other people may also be killing civilians.  That is not the point.  The point is that if you think a nation's military is killing non-combatants in your country, province or town, you will not see that country as a paragon of virtue.  You will not love it, however much it wants to be loved.

And over the 46 years since 1971, there are plenty of countries that have had that experience - in South-East Asia, in South America, in the Caribbean, in the Middle East, in Africa.  Not to mention American obfuscation and disruption on global climate agreements, American companies' domination of global trade.  So many things for poor nations not to love.

So maybe it's true that many Americans don't get irony but this is obviously not true of all of them, otherwise how could Don McLean have written this song?  They may have failed to notice, but he has skewered them good and proper and the song is still as true now as it was then.  America is not the great nation it thinks it is.

If even McLean is too subtle, perhaps you should try this little subversive gem from Jimi Hendrix's performance at Woodstock in 1969.


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