Music, and American music is no exception, has long been a traditional storytelling form, a language for myths passed down through regions and families; as recently as the first quarter of last century, before radio began the mass media’s consolidation of national (or global) identity and obliteration of regional specificity, the variations in different recordings (assuming there were any) or performances of the same song acted as remarkably specific watermarks indicating a point of geographic, ethnic and chronological origin.
The modern American story song retains this sense of music as passed-down myth, and generally uses an instrumentation, roots- or-blues-based (or some combination thereof — I’m not convinced there’s really actually a clear delineation between rural white and black American folk music), that recalls the organic, local traditions of music-making. (Hip-hop, of course, is an ideal form for narrative or proclamatory music, continuing this tradition of lyrical, communicative music predating recorded history; its production also sprung up organically from local roots and materials at hand — block parties are hoedowns on concrete, obvs.)
Anyway. This next potential national anthem, a favorite in the L offices this year, is — much like Bruce Springsteen’s classic modern American story song “Atlantic City” — a story song about a good man doing a bad thing for a bad man for a good reason. It’s a myth about the American Dream — that is, the hope of a better life, the seed of the American character that’s constantly replenished by immigrants and new generations — given weight by its tragic dramatic trajectory (crime, of course, is the pursuit of said Dream by the wrong means, which are nevertheless the only means often available), and its affirmation of the virtues of risk and self-sacrifice for the sake of family and future generations. And, as, the video of this song reminds us, our new national anthem should retain the joy of community — that is, of all us getting drunk and singing along to something together while our friends pound along on whatever instrument’s handy: