1. Does a ritual count as an obsession? There are certain songs I try to play every year on certain days: John and Yoko's "Listen, the Snow is Falling" (b-side to "Happy Xmas") on the day of the first snowfall, Patti Smith's "Easter" on that particular Sunday, etc. July 4 comes packed with many a song: the Blasters' "Fourth of July" (later covered by X), not one but two by Ani DiFranco (one from early in her career called "4th of July," the other called "Independence Day"), and finally (finally in my little ceremony, at least) the Beach Boys' "Fourth of July." This last one is the only one I managed to play last night, and it's the newest in my personal playlist--I first heard it maybe four years ago as part of the GOOD VIBRATIONS box, and it was unreleased before that came out. It's a wonderful Dennis Wilson song, which means it will come as a total surprise to the many casual listeners who associate the B Boys exclusively with surfboards and fun, fun, fun. I've never quite been able to follow the lyrics all the way through, but the music is slow, mournful, nearly tragic, as if it's a dirge for the nation. (Since it dates from the early 70s, that's shouldn't be a shock. Sure, Mike Love has managed to shape the remaining scraps of band into a Republican supergroup, but their actual history is far more complex than that--in fact, I'd argue that part of their mission from SMILE through the early 80s was constructing an alternative history of America, sunshine, clouds, and all.) Come to think of it, all four of the songs I've listed have their grim side. (Ani's earlier tune is pretty bouncy, but its subject is the one person in the state of Iowa who will talk to her.) Seems fitting, I guess, to mark such the nation's birthday on a somber note along with the fireworks. After all, the older we get, the harder it gets to celebrate our own lives, right? And the more there is to celebrate, too.
2. Inspired by everything I've learned lately about the various military coups in Brazil in the 1960s--which played such a critical role in the careers of Caetano and Gilberto Gil--to say nothing of everyday Brazilians-- I watched CHILE, LA MEMORIA OBSTINADA [CHILE, THE OBSTINATE MEMORY] (1997) not too long ago. I know, I know: different country, different history, but the threads seem clear to me. The documentary doesn't really talk much about the U.S. involvement in the events of September 11 (1973), when Allende was ousted and Pinochet was installed. I had only the vaguest understanding of the story, and was moved by director Patricio Guzman's meditation on national and personal memory. It's really a meta-doc, I guess; his earlier film on the coup d'etat, THE BATTLE OF CHILE, had never been screened in the country, and after a long official chill, few people were willing to talk about what had happened in '73 (and, of course, many current-day high school and college students were born long after the events in the first film, so they were ancient history). Although I haven't seen BATTLE, I could follow the basic thread of the followup pretty easily. I found its straightforwardness sort of refreshing in the wake of zippier docs like SUPERSIZE ME and other school-of-Michael-Moore movies. And the film brought home to me something of the impact of living through a military regime--something which has seemed less and less of a fantasy here in the States for the last couple of years. At the same time, there's the reminder that no regime lasts forever.