Saturday, July 19, 2008

A song that chokes me up

I'm a patriot. In today's divisive politics, that word gets misused. I believe in the liberties in our Constitution, I believe in the greatness of this country and all it has done, and I still believe we hold the best hope for freedom in the world. Are we a perfect nation? Of course not, but none is. They are all shot through with human failings, but we, as a people, try to do what we think is right and, in most cases, eventually wind up in the right place.

There is a song that came out when I was young, a song that struck a chord the first time I heard it, because it reflects my family's history. I am descended from Eastern European Jews, people who were attacked, enslaved, oppressed and killed because of who they were. But there was one country, one shining light that offered us hope. Yes, some of our people were turned away in times of need, as some are today. Again, not a perfect nation. Still, it was a nation whose "Father" and first President promised to the Jews over 200 years ago, "To Bigotry No Sanction, to Persecution No Assistance."

So it is fitting that the song was written and sung by a man of my background, descended from Eastern European Jews. Yes, hold your groans, I'm talking about Neil Diamond, and the song is called America.

Just reading the lyrics makes his feelings clear:

We've been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star

Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream

On the boats and on the planes
They're coming to America
Never looking back again
They're coming to America

Home, don't it seem so far away
Oh, we're traveling light today
In the eye of the storm
In the eye of the storm

Home, to a new and a shiny place
Make our bed, and we'll say our grace
Freedom's light burning warm
Freedom's light burning warm

Everywhere around the world
They're coming to America
Every time that flag's unfurled
They're coming to America

Got a dream to take them there
They're coming to America
Got a dream they've come to share
They're coming to America

They're coming to America
They're coming to America
They're coming to America
They're coming to America
Today, today, today, today, today

My country 'tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty
Of thee I sing
Of thee I sing

As sappy as it may seem, some of those lyrics bring tears to my eyes, especially when I hear him sing them. "Free. Only want to be free. We huddle close. Hang on to a dream."

I can see my ancestors, risking their lives, making their way across Europe and across an ocean to a foreign land, leaving all they knew behind for a chance at a new and better life for their children... for me.

"Home, don't it seem so far away. Oh, we're traveling light today. In the eye of the storm. In the eye of the storm."

I don't know that I would have had the guts to do it. To leave everything behind and risk it all on a chance at that better life.

If you've never heard the song, or even if you have, take a look at this clip from the 1980 movie The Jazz Singer, where Neil Diamond's character (who name is Jess, by the way) wins over his father (played by Sir Laurence Olivier) with the song:


ATG said...

That song chokes me up too. It's such an awesome song and my mom was a huge Neil Diamond fan so I grew up listening to his albums over and over and over.

I love this country too...America rocks. I cannot imagine being the feisty woman I am in any other country but this one. :)

Now that song speaks to me on a different level because it makes me think about the whole immigration debates and this song captures, for me, why people come here from the get go.

Matt said...

This is a new song to me.

I can see how it has a special meaning for you. Songs can inspire us in so many different ways.

Greg said...

Neil Diamond, American poet. It is a great song...and the movie wasn't half-bad, either.

I'm with you on the patriotism was something I felt about this country far and away before it was "popular" (or more frightening still, expected) to be so.


Sooo-this-is-me said...

Well I'm not Amercian as in 'USA' but North Amercian, however I have loved that song since I was a little kid.

In keeping with your thoughts, it drives me crazy, when someone comes from another country that is in complete chaos, and then bitches about how your or my country is run.

Two years ago some co-workers and I were given tickets by our boss to go see Neil Diamond, (no laughing either) I knew a lot of his songs so I went as I had nothing better to do. The show was actually awesome and he went on straight for almost three hours, not too many younger singers can (or will) do that. I was totally impressed.

Jess said...

atg: Well put!

matt: It's a good song. I hope you enjoyed it!

greg: It really has been twisted, hasn't it? And by people who don't really understand the true meaning. People will claim to be patriotic while yelling at people for criticizing the government, which is the most patriotic act of all!

sooo: Yup. We're fortunate to be from two great countries, and it does get under my skin when people ignore all of the good and attack the problems. That's too easy. As for Neil Diamond, he really is quite a performer. I'd still love to see him in concert!