“Living in America” by The Sounds

In the early days of this fine blog, Jason wrote a post on protest music and I followed up.  In the comments to my post, Alex wrote:

As far as protest songs go, I always like the song “Living in America” by the Swedish band: the Sounds (not a James Brown cover). It was released less than a year after Sept. 11th 2001 and contained the lyrics” “We’re not living in America, and we’re not sorry. No we don’t care about the world today and we’re not sorry for you [America]” Not that I really agree with the message, but I’m glad they had the balls to release it and it made me proud to live in country where you could hear such a blatantly un-American song on the radio. Especially because If I wrote a song called “Sweden eats Donkey Ass (with lingonberry sauce) with lyrics deriding Abba and Ikea you know the Swedes would never play it on the radio in Sweden.

I’m a big fan of the Sounds. I am not a big fan of anti-Americanism, but I try very hard to keep my personal views out of the way when judging a piece of art. I’m not perfect at this, but I try. And I think “Living in America” is a terrific song.

Since, sadly, anti-Americanism seems to be the default position for many musicians, I more-or-less assumed Alex’s take on what The Sounds were saying in that song was correct. But when I saw them play an awesome show last Friday, it occurred to me that maybe both of us had it wrong.

I think the seed was planted by their obvious affection for our country. They couldn’t have been happier to be playing here and they expressed that. So when they played “Living in America,” I paid special attention to the lyrics that I pretty much know by heart.

We’re not living in America,
But we’re not sorry
I knew there was something that we never had,
But we don’t worry
No we’re not living in America,
But we’re not sorry
We don’t care about the world today
We’re not sorry for you.

It’s “we don’t care about the world today” that struck me.  Why would anyone write a political song that insists that not caring about the world today is the correct attitude?

I don’t think anyone would.  It’s what you would write if you were characterizing someone’s views that aren’t yours.

Perhaps “Living in America” is a pro-American song.  Since World War II, America has provided security for Europe, and it hasn’t escaped the attention of some of us on this side of the pond that we are often rewarded with hatred for keeping them safe and cleaning up their messes.  They don’t worry because we are bearing the burden.  And some of them had very snide reactions when three thousand of our citizens were slaughtered by religious fanatics.  (Contact Fandon the Fun Marshal for a story that will make your blood boil.)

America has the weight of the world on her shoulders.  The response to our tragedy?

Pretty as a picture, dancing the night away.
Don’t stop, baby.

So:

“Teenage porn stars / Living for nothing now.”

“I knew there was something that we never had.”

“We don’t worry.”

“We’re not sorry.”

“We don’t care about the world today.”

Am I wrong in thinking the song may be caricaturing European anti-Americanism in the wake of September 11th?  I would like to think that, but perhaps I’m projecting.  What do you think?

Note that she’s wearing a Ramones shirt in the video.  The Ramones are maybe the quintessential American band, and both Johnny and Joey were big-time patriots.  It’s an odd choice if the Sounds are actually spitting on the country the Ramones loved.

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3 Responses to “Living in America” by The Sounds

  1. mattmck01 says:

    I’ve thought both ways about that song. I first thought that The Sounds were thumbing their nose at the United States, but I’ve come to agree with Gordon. Maria seems to realize that it is easier to fund forward-thinking social programs like European countries always seem to do when the U.S. is picking up the tab on those big-ticket items like National Defense. (apologies to Aaron Sorkin for butchering his line
    I think they are are admonishing Scandinavian youth for being coked-up, Euro-trash, disco-brats instead of being more involved in the complex problems of the modern world.
    Or maybe they just couldn’t speak english well when they wrote that song, making it practically undecipherable.

  2. Patrick Bateman says:

    You might also want to check out Rammstein’s highly controversial hit, “Amerika” (Google it for English lyrics and videos). Some people feel it’s strongly anti-American, while some feel it’s a love/hate thing. I frankly don’t know what to make of it.

  3. Alex LaPointe says:

    You may be on to something. I think it was American radio stations hyped up the idea that the song was anti-American. Speaking of patriotic song parodies, nothing beats “Freedom Isn’t Free” of the “Team America: World Police” soundtrack.

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