Travel in music: Chapter 6 - 1987-90, United States of America
Updated: May 28
2020, the world is in confinement because of a corona virus. I have used this time to reminisce on my past through a musical blog series. They will take you through my peregrinations on this tiny, unique earth, in chronological order. Click on the song, use it as soundtrack, and enjoy!
1987-1990 - Chapter 6 | I spent my teenage years in the United States of America's grand ol' capital, Washington DC. The only taste I had had of the US so far was a trip to Florida five years previously. You will forgive me for thinking I was moving to Disney World. After all, it was the land of multi-color cereal, giant ice-cream sundaes, entertainment sports, lunar landings and cartoons. To me, as it probably was to many European kids in the late 80s, America felt like fantasy land.
In many ways, it proved to be true. We moved in to a white wooden slat house with a front lawn and a driveway, like the ones you see in the movies. We had snow days where school was off and you could earn easy cash by shoveling driveways before going to pelt your buddies with snowballs in the park. We played basketball, baseball and football with the neighborhood kids for hours on end, entirely unsupervised. Halloween, Easter and Thanksgiving were not holidays. They were productions! It felt like the marketing fairy had vomited on every house, restaurant or shop...
I was an impressionable teen who had just spent four years in an austere Jesuit Belgian school in grey Brussels so I cannot deny being slightly mesmerized. Not only was I drunk on newly acquired freedom, the sheer size of everything had me floored. I had never seen sidewalks this wide, cars this long, people so fat, national parks that big, popcorn buckets this deep, TV ads so frequent, soda fountains so bottomless, friendliness so exaggerated.
As the newness subsided though, I found myself hitting an increasingly rebellious broodiness. Sure, it probably had a lot to do with developing acne and hormonal angst but I suspect a lot of it was also due to getting more perceptive about my surroundings. The silver screen is fascinating but the further backstage you go, the less attractive it becomes. America's varnish started to fade. I got sick of the sugar-coated superficiality. Its famous 'exceptionalism' echoed back hypocrisy-crisy-isy-sy.
In this era of supreme might for the USA, as its cold war foe was about to crumble from arms-race exhaustion, the smirk of superiority became hard to hide. Capitalism was about to win. The Hollywood-peddled 'American dream' is real and here was the proof. Never mind the masses trampled underfoot for whom it is an empty slogan. Never mind that the tail side of the coin still spelled 'might is right', as it has done since the first settlers landed on the coast of Virginia.
Always one to hit truths with a stroke of his acid-dipped pen, Bob Dylan rips this mirage to shreds with a history lesson. Sung in the angelic voice of Aaron Neville, stripped of all instrumentation bar a haunting keyboard and subdued strings, it takes near-prophetic dimension. To me, This Is America.