The 82nd Airborne’s beautiful recording of Irving Berlin’s God Bless America, reminds us that reverence for liberty is at the heart of American patriotism.
Irving Berlin’s family came to American in 1893, when he was five, leaving behind forever the ethnic, genocidal pogroms that destroyed his family home in Russia. His only memory of his time in Russia was of hiding in the woods as Russians torched his family home for the “crime of being Jewish.”
Berlin’s family settled in New York’s Lower East Side, which was then the most densely populated spot in the world. At 13, his formal education ended when Berlin became a singing waiter to help support his family. The rest, of course, is American musical history. I’ll just note here that he was one of the few members of the great American Songbook who wrote both music and lyrics.
I happen to love Irving Berlin’s music. The melodies are accessible, but not simplistic, and the lyrics are incredibly sophisticated, all the more so when you consider the “English-as-a-second-language” and “almost-no-formal-schooling” issues in Irving Berlin’s life. Look at the vocabulary choices and the internal rhyme schemes in this verse from Lazy:
Under that awning
They call the sky
Stretching and yawning
And let the world go drifting by
I want to peep
Through the deep
’til I sleep
Like a child would
With a great big valise full
Of books to read where it’s peaceful
By way of contrast, here are some lyrics from Child Gambino’s This is America: [Read more…]