4th of July: Peace, Love, and Understanding

Nick Lowe - Peace, Love, and UnderstandingIn 1978, Elvis Costello recorded the best known version of “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding.” It’s a great version, there’s no question of that. But a lot of people are surprised to learn that he didn’t write it. This is because his version seems sarcastic. The song was written by Nick Lowe, a man certainly capable of great cynicism. But I think this song is really a self-indictment. It’s an honest question, “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?”

When I was in graduate school, I lived with two Brits. I liked them both very much. I still do. They were fun people. But they had a very cynical view of the world and considered themselves very cool. In some ways, I thrived around them. It was knowing them and their incredible self-assuredness that got me to start my first underground newspaper and eventually led to me being a professional writer. But it also brought out a lot of bad things in me, especially being over-conscious of how people viewed me.

As any teenager can tell you, the easiest way to feel un-judged is to be cynical and to pretend that nothing really matters. And I think Nick Lowe suffered from that same thing as many creatively minded people do. So the song is kind of him slapping himself in the face. I know how that goes. I remember writing a song once told from one perspective and thinking that it was so unfair. So I wrote a song from the other perspective. The second song was better, because it was more thoughtful.

I think that America suffers from the same kind of insecurity. This is why we take up 48% of the world’s military spending. We just aren’t right with us. What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding? Everything! It’s for weak people, suckers, or as Donald Trump would say, losers. But I want all the peace, love, and understanding that I can get.

The 4th of July always strikes me as the opposite of peace, love, and understanding. When I was kid, I liked the fireworks. They were colorful. But now they are all illegal. So people get illegal “fireworks” that are not pretty. They are just bombs — loud. And I hate loud sounds. They are the sounds of conflict, hatred, and intolerance. And that is what America is for me to a large extent. If Donald Trump becomes president, it will be a catastrophe, but it will also be fitting.

But on this 4th of July, I want to offer the hope that we can be better — that we won’t laugh at those who are kind. That being an “easy mark” is a sign of greatness, not stupidity. What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding? Not a damned thing.

6 thoughts on “4th of July: Peace, Love, and Understanding

  1. In my neck of the woods fireworks are legal for a set period of time. And it starts three days before my birthday which is kind of neat.

    Last night we set off most of the leftover ones from my birthday and today we have a bunch to set off for the 4th. Going to be lots of sparkly lights in the sky.

  2. Legal/illegal isn’t the point. (Fireworks are legal here in MI, too.) As you say, the “fireworks” that people set off are not nothing but bombs, just one step removed from firing guns into the air. Somewhere along the way, the Fourth mutated from a “America is a wonderful place to live” celebration to “America is the greatest country in the world, and so we can do whatever we want, whether it’s legal, pseudo-legal, or out-and-out illegal.” You don’t hear “America the Beautiful” blaring from loundspeakers along with the Star-Spangled Banner; it’s “God Bless America” these days. Bombs bursting in air, indeed.

    • I really don’t know what it’s for anymore. It’s been some time since I’ve seen the Revolutionary War as a good thing. Not that being part of the British Empire is that great. But we could be Canada now, and that does sound rather better to me at the moment.

    • Yeah, I get where both of you are coming from.

      @ Dono — absolutely, the flag-waving shit while we venerate explosions is just horrific. Some years ago I was in my apartment in a downtown city, and sleeping (I never go to fireworks shows, they bore me, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all) and I heard the fireworks 4th display and had this horrific nightmare about life in a war zone before I woke up. In a downtown with skyscrapers, the fireworks by the riverfront reverberate off all the building surfaces. It sounds like you’re being shelled. And we do that do people ALL THE TIME. But most people at fireworks festivals don’t care what our military does to people — they aren’t aware of it, and don’t think about it.

      @ Elizabeth — Blowing things up is fun! The Chinese had fireworks long before anyone thought to use the mixture as a propellant for bullets. I always used to love backyard fireworks. Because they’re legal, and can’t be all that explosive, the fun part is trying to figure out how to link fireworks together to make a bigger bang. (This is not safe, but is is entertaining.) Who didn’t enjoy in chemistry class when the teacher set stuff on flashy fire!

      Blowing stuff up in a non-violent way KICKS ASS.

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