American Baby - What To Make Of The Lyrics
By Patrick Wolohan
March 24, 2005
With all of the dispute over what the new lyrics mean and whether or not they are the deep compositions that we have come to expect from Dave Matthews Band, I thought that I would take a crack at analyzing the issues.
The first that we heard of the song was that is was explicitly political and that it had bombs dropping in the background. I, like many DMB fans, became increasing worried about what this song might say about our nation, about the war, and about President Bush. Dave had “political” songs before but never anything criticizing any specific event or decision. He kept his songs much broader focusing on the horror of war, the problem of starvation, the displacement of the Native Americans and other topics. Hearing that this song was written the day after the election only furthered my fears that this song would be extremely and explicitly political. Then I heard the song and everything changed.
A lot of people found the song to be shallow, nothing compared to the incredible lyrics that Dave has penned in the past. I on the other hand think that this song is incredibly rich in depth in meaning on a number of different levels and interpretations. In my opinion the song can be interpreted in two different ways. You can either take the stance that Dave is singing about the original American ideals and how we must hold on to them at all costs or the view that the song deals with the war in Iraq. After analyzing the lyrics, I feel that the majority of them deal with the first topic and only a select few can be interpreted to support the idea that this song is explicitly political in the same way that Green Day and other bands have recently been.
For that reason I think that this song is just another brilliantly written commentary in this case dealing with American ideals. Since 9-11 the American ideal has been challenged with many people acting in ways that suggest freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and other guaranteed American rights are no longer as important as the founding fathers believed they were. “If these walls came crumblin’ down / fell so hard to make us lose our faith” seems to suggest this, that after a disaster we were so shocked that we might have forgotten what made America so great it the first place. We started believing that we should shut down our borders and return to an isolationist state, that privacy was a freedom that we should no longer protect, and that some people were too dangerous to let in the country. This isn’t a problem solely in America either as such countries known for allowing almost everything under the sun have begun cracking down on immigration and border control. The Netherlands specifically has considered recinding some of their free practices after the murder of controversial film maker Van Gogh by Islam terrorists in protest of his movie “Submission”. I think that Dave is warning the youth of America, telling them not to lose faith, for we will “figure it out” and “still make lemonade taste like a summer day” not become some pathetic shadow of the great country we are starting to get away from. He wants us to stay American and stay beautiful. He could not even be speaking to an actual person but to the country itself.
He further goes on to say that this is a serious problem, as “nobody’s laughing now” as we do things that cause God’s grace to be lost and that make the devil proud. The rights that we once deemed to be endowed by the Creator in the Declaration of Independence are now being challenged. The thousand miles comment might refer to how we would do anything to go back to how we were when life was so much simpler. We have progressed along way since the original American ideals. We squabble about insignificant things like whether or not saying Under God in the constitution. Even American staples such as baseball have been corrupted in recent months. Dave then proceeds to talking about he will hold on to the American ideal personally and he hopes that he will see it resurface as the popular ideology. He states that if he doesn’t see that return we will all have lost our way. Overall, the song is a strong statement about DMB’s wish that we return to the American ideals of the past. We need to this country to Stay Beautiful and to Stay American.
Another thing I noticed was that lack of lyrics. The majority of the song consists of the repetition of a few lines. I think that this is not a lack of lyrical depth but simply a decision that Dave made in order to keep the song from being too overtly political. If he had made specific mention to the war in Iraq or other political problems it would not go over as well and would appear aged in a few years. Even the lyrics that appear to be a veiled reference to 9-11 are not definitely confined to that interpretation. So rather than a weakly veiled political song we get a strong, more timeless statement while sacrificing some of the lyrical depth that could have been written.
However, even though we get this message I’m not completely sure that
Dave could not have written deeper and more lyrics while still
remaining true to the intent of the song. I am extremely interested to see how
the rest of the album turns out and I can’t wait to hear it. Hopefully,
American Baby will turn out to be the worst song on the album.
The views and comments expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of antsmarching.org.