Reporter's Notebook

Songs of Complicated Patriotism
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A series of songs on American life whose refrains are often misunderstood as blindly patriotic. Submit your own recommendation to hello@theatlantic.com.

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Track of the Day: 'Rockin’ in the Free World'

In my earlier note featuring “Born in the U.S.A.” and “America,” I asked readers if they knew of other songs that convey the kind of complicated patriotism their refrains might betray. One reader who delivers via hello@:

Next in line has surely got to be “Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young. The chorus itself is a great cheer of ambiguity and willful ignorance.

Another reader notes:

You don’t need to read far to get what Neil Young’s saying, but don’t miss the second verse, featuring a hopeless crack addict throwing her infant in a trash can. Uplifting!

Full lyrics below. Here’s some context for the song:

A reader remarks on a video flagged by a previous reader showing old images of U.S. immigrants juxtaposed with David Bowie’s rendition of Paul Simon’s “America”:

The reader claims that the line “they’ve all come to look for America” reflects a “pro-immigrant, anti-nativist.” But the line didn’t refer to immigrants coming to America; it was about disillusionment. See this great response by Ross Barkan in The Observer.

Here’s Barkan:

The irony, though, is that “America” is probably not the song Mr. Sanders’ operatives think it is. Like Ronald Reagan, the Republican president who mistook Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A” for a cheerful patriotic anthem when it was really an indictment of the Vietnam War [illustrated by the haunting mashup seen above, juxtaposing Springsteen’s song with scenes from Full Metal Jacket], the ambience of this spot doesn’t match the meaning of the lyrics in full.