5:31pm

Tue June 5, 2012
American Dreams: Then And Now

'My Country': tUnE-yArDs Questions The American Dream

Originally published on Thu June 14, 2012 10:07 am

Merrill Garbus, the woman behind the experimental folk-rock band tUnE-yArDs, wrote her song "My Country" with the state of the union on her mind. The melody resembles "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" at first but quickly veers into more chaotic territory.

" 'My Country,' first of all, does this thing of playing with the original patriotic melody," Garbus says. "It lands on this really weird, unexpected note, and that's something that musically says, 'There's something suspect here; let's investigate this more.' "

Garbus says she hopes the song will entice listeners to examine the notion of the American dream — an idea she finds disingenuous.

"We cannot all have it," Garbus says. "You know, that's the whole idea of the American dream, that we can all have it as long we work hard — and that is untrue. There are so many ways in our country where we are not giving the same opportunities to everybody."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

As you heard in Claudio's story, Juan Carlos was first introduced to the notion of the American dream through literature - Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman." That notion - of a better tomorrow for those who work hard enough - is pervasive in American literature, art and music.

And so is the opposite idea - that the American dream is just a fantasy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERRILL GARBUS: I'm Merrill Garbus. I started a band called tUnE-yArDs. And I wrote a song called "My Country," out of frustration with the current state of the United States.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY COUNTRY")

GARBUS: We cannot all have it. You know, that's the whole idea of the American dream - is, we can all have it as long as we work hard. And that is untrue. There are so many ways in our country where we are not giving the same opportunities to everybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY COUNTRY")

tUnE-yArDs: (Singing) The worst thing about living a lie is just wondering when they'll find out.

GARBUS: "My Country," first of all, does do this thing of playing with the original patriotic melody.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY COUNTRY")

GARBUS: It lands on this really weird, unexpected note. And that's something that musically, says there's something suspect here; let's investigate this more.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY COUNTRY")

tUnE-yArDs: (Singing) We cannot all have it - well, now, what do you want me to say to those others? Oh yes, there's a place for you, but that place is underneath the cushion of my behind. And you cannot have it. Well, then why did you say so? With my eyes open, how can I be happy? With my eyes open, if nothing of this is ours, how will I ever know when something's mine?

GARBUS: Because of the structures of power and of money in our country, the American people are often excluded from what's really making the policy. If we're being excluded from our government, how are we included, then, in this idea of the American dream?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY COUNTRY")

GARBUS: The ability to speak my feelings about my experience as an American, is absolutely part of my American dream.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY COUNTRY")

GREENE: Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, talking her song "My Country." And you can see the music video for the song at our website, NPRMusic.org. And as part of our series, we want to know what the American dream means to you. So surprise us with your words and pictures. Go to NPR.org/Dream.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY COUNTRY")

tUnE-yArDs: (Singing) The worst thing about living a lie is just wondering when they'll find out.

GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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