Since the "fourth of July" is going to last for about 7 days this year, I feel obliged to say something about patriotism.
We sat in the Koussevitzky Shed at Tanglewood Saturday evening in the audience for the live broadcast of Prairie Home Companion. Garrison Keillor's star guest was James Taylor. We have never seen the show before, not even when it comes to us because the tickets sell out months in advance. But this year some friends who are big fans of the show bought tickets for a van-full of us back in February. We made a day of it with the picnic on lawn and the whole nine yards.
The entire Tanglewood grounds were packed, around 13,000 people according to a Tanglewood employee we know. Keillor could run for president in Massachusetts and get away with it. He really had a knack for working a crowd. His wireless mic must have an incredible range because he walked through the crowd to open the show, all the way to the back of the shed and stood on benches to wave to the sea of folks with lawn tickets.
This crowd was not quite a slice of Massachusetts. Readers of The Boston Globe would have outnumbered readers of the Herald. Keillor got plenty of applause for jokes that mentioned the Redsox in a favorable way. Plenty of other material in the show reflected that Keillor or his writers knew the sympathies of the audience. The one joke that tells much about that knowledge was a skit in which James Taylor's worst secret fear was revealed: that George Bush was a fan.
So I am left to wonder, and hope someone can explain, how Keillor could get that audience on its feet to sing the corniest patriotic tunes [ the show started with the national anthem and later, we did a great job on America The Beautiful] and run a nominal 2 hour show a full hour longer with encores of equally sentimental favorites. These people are, by comparison to the crowd YOU happen to be standing amongst, fairly liberal but you could have heard the same warmth for patriotic songs in Dakota or Kansas. What is patriotism? Its just what you were taught: loving your country, having a good feeling about the place you come from.
I just said two things in that last sentence and first is everybody's claim but in particular conservatives and especially the Bush league: love of country, whatever that means. But the second is exactly what the neocons have sullied and deprived us of: how can we be proud of being a country that tortures people, spies on its citizens and stages deadly invasions of other countries on false premises? Keillor made us feel good but its a kind of parlor trick in which we feel good about a country to be found mostly in songs and memories. At least he can make us feel good. He knows those memories and can spin a yarn that leads us back to them. That Bush and the petty fascists that prop him up have made those old favorites ring more hollow than ever before is something I don't intend to let anyone forget.