Sunday, July 1, 2012

National Celebrations: National Holiday

Timbuk 3: National Anthem


So let's all sing the national anthem
Free the hostages, pay the ransom
Raise the flag, lower the taxes
Ban the bomb, bury the hatchet...

They stagger the fireworks around these rural parts; we've spent the last few nights hearing pops and crackles out the window late into the dark hours, and we'll hear more, for sure, up to the fourth. Alongside, the deeply American sounds of Bob Seeger and Bruce Springsteen and the rise-and-fall mutter and splash of above-ground pool parties and barbecues drift through the trees, as early weekend warriors anticipate the street fair and parade that will march down Main Street, each fire truck and family farm vehicle, each team and flotilla pausing for just a moment on the cusp like God's own invading army before descending into the madness for their due regard come Wednesday.

One thing you won't likely hear is the less than soothing sounds of Timbuk 3, that mid-eighties band of rabblerousers and politicos who tried to cast a critical lens on the popular only to find its subtext was too deep for the average listener. Though the typical case study is obvious - The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades may be catchy, but to use it for motivation is to totally mistake its pith for optimism - their oft-overlooked and certainly critically undersold back catalog is equally strong.

I've posted several of singer-songwriter Pat MacDonald's cynical compositions here over the last few years, aiming to make my case with persistence, if not comprehensive treatment. But in many ways, National Holiday, which opens 1989 album Edge of Allegiance, is the prototypical Timbuk 3 song: a solid electrobeat over lush acoustic guitars, sparse harmonica, and an undercurrent of tongue-in-cheek synthesizer; a high level of lyrical genericism and broad-brush archetype; so dry, you're not totally sure if it's meant to be ironic right up until the final punchline. Described aptly as both "chipper" and "facetiously optimistic" by critics, it's like a family portrait of our nation: frozen in time, falsely crisp in demeanor; so carefully groomed and spun, the better to fool ourselves in the patriotic mirror.

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