Brent Johnson’s Lost Songs: ‘American Tune’ by Paul Simon

brent johnson digs up a lost treasure from Paul Simon on the Fourth of July …

Today is the Fourth of July, and many U.S. citizens will celebrate with BBQs, picnics, parades and renditions of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’

But if you’re open to spending a few minutes with a beautiful, solemn song about the exhaustion and ambition of the American Dream, pop on Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune.’

It was a minor hit in 1973, one of the standout tracks on his classic There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album. But it stalled at No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 — meaning you won’t find it many of Simon’s greatest hits collections.

Still, it’s among the most brilliant compositions in a career filled with them. The lilting melody is based on a chorale by Johann Sebastian Bach. The orchestra sounds as if it’s crying. And the words are resigned but touching — an ode to Americans who work so hard to achieve their goals when really all they want is the hope of rest and something better.

Simon wrote it as the Watergate scandal gripped the U.S. and the Vietnam War was finally winding down. It’s neither patriotic nor angry. It’s neither hopeful nor pessimistic. It simply seems to be a metaphor for the American spirit: That even when times are crippling and confusing, we can always band together and sing an American tune. The message may be even more potent today, a time when so millions in the U.S. are begging for work.

There’s so much to be grateful for on Independence Day. For the courage it took for our Founding Fathers to break away from Britain. For the sheer beauty of Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration. For freedom. For democracy.

Let us also be mindful that while the American Dream isn’t always easy, it is always there to strive for.