What follows is a portion of a rather half-assed journal of my summer trip through Europe.
Amsterdam. The 4th Of July (Monday). 10 p.m.
Before this, we’d been in some famous bar on one of Amsterdam’s beautiful, cobblestone streets. The bartender, a tall, bald man who simultaneously looked kindly and like he could pull your ears off if he had to, had given us the two beers Danny had asked for in Dutch. Then we’d sat down at a table inside because everything outside was taken on this, a sunny July day.
Then the Americans had arrived. They were all in their twenties – college students from the University of Kansas, of all places. One of them wore a bright blue KU basketball warm-up. Another had on a pink polo shirt and jeans that were slung low on his hips. The last was wearing a bright, checkered shirt straight from the set of Two And A Half Men.
They were talking with a Dutch friend they’d made about the American college system, explaining what each of them would make when they were done with medical school. They were loud and inconsiderate of their surroundings and, as they greeted an American girl who was trying to get past them with a “Happy Fourth Of July!” I couldn’t have been more ashamed to be American, or less excited about the American Independence Day.
In my mind, blind patriotism is about as useful as greed, sloth, or Anthony Kiedis anytime after Blood Sugar Sex Magik. For people who’ve never been out of their home countries, saying that they think their country is best carries as much weight as saying that your favorite ice cream is strawberry even though you’ve never tried anything else. And oh, sure, patriotism could be taken to mean having some pride in where you were born, but then again, most people (no people) choose where they were born, so really, patriotism only makes sense if you’ve chosen to live in a certain place because, then – then – you’ve made a conscious decision to be in a country.
But now, everything has changed. Because now I’m standing in the middle of the main floor at Paradiso, a music venue that used to be a church and is now one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen a show, and I’m bouncing onto my toes and there are chills coursing down my back because I recognize this intro. In a few seconds, TV On The Radio’s lead singer, Tunde Adebimpe, is going to kick off the vocals of what is one of my favorite songs by any band, the wistful, hopeful, frantic and sometimes despairing “Wolf Like Me.*”
As Adebimpe, backed by bearded guitarist Kyp Malone (who might be the coolest man on the planet, if it’s not Adebimpe) launches into the semi-chorus, and as the always-frantic David Sitek makes everyone think he’s trying to break the strings on his guitar, I look toward the stage at a group of Dutch kids who are losing their collective minds.
And in this moment, I love the fact that I am American.
After all this journeying, a part of me wants to live in Amsterdam or Berlin or Stockholm because the people in those cities are thin and smart and well-educated, which is more than you can say for most Americans these days.
But even though I have so, SO many problems with my home country, there’s no way TV On The Radio could be Dutch. Because, for all our faults as Americans – our broken political system, our collective ignorance about the world at large, our continued insistence on wearing bright orange Eastpaks wherever we go – we continue to be taught to take chances. And taking chances is the only way that something like this – this glorious, epic, spine-tingling song by a band that’s as American as any – can come into being.
And in this moment – on the Fourth Of July, of all days – I couldn’t be prouder to be American.
*The fact that “Wolf Like Me” is my favorite TV On The Radio song does not make me unique; I’m pretty sure it’s the favorite TV On The Radio song for 60% of humans who’ve ever heard more than one TV On The Radio song. But “Wolf Like Me” means something extra to me. It’s the first song I put on a disc I made for drives around the island of Menorca when I played basketball there. It was a lonely time in my life, but every time “Wolf Like Me” came up (which was often because I only made two CDs), everything was okay.
To read the previous Euro Bits entry, click here.
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