Philip here. For me, Independence day is a time to celebrate the establishment of our nation and a time to reflect and continue working towards our highest aspirations as a people, a time to imagine “a more perfect union” to quote a phrase. But that’s in a more macro sense. In a more micro sense, on this day we also enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of this day, sensations that imprint into our memories as we grow older and bring deeper personal meaning to a day of national importance. Everything from the smell of fireworks, the sight of fresh corn on the cob, the ubiquitous red white and blue, these universal experiences place themselves in our subconscious and form a backdrop to our own more unique impressions of the day.
What are your best memories of Independence day? My first recollection of Independence day was not a happy one, as I was four years old and I was throwing a tantrum because I didn’t want to ride my tricycle in the neighborhood Fourth of July Parade. But later memories were better; some were profoundly moving, some memories were hilarious, and some were truly bizarre. I’ll list a few of mine below, but more importantly, I’d like to see your comments on what memories of this day stick out most in your mind.
1. Early Childhood and Sparking My Love for Classical Music:
As I stated above, my earliest recollection of the fourth of July consisted mainly of a tricycle-related meltdown. But my later memories, more coherent though still fragmented, are much more positive. Shortly after my parents moved us to Austin from Houston, they took us to the Austin symphony’s Independence Day concert.
Now, like many dorky children, I’d been raised listening to classical music, mainly Bach and Handel. But my first memories of actually ENJOYING classical music stem from that day out at Zilker Park, sweltering in the heat but transfixed by the Orchestra performing the entirety of the 1812 Overture.
As an adult, I now consider that piece a little overwrought and gimmicky, but as a child I was profoundly affected by the raw emotionality and passion that pervades the entirety of Tchaikovsky’s compositions. The slow yet driving beginning, the intermingling of French and Russian patriotic motifs throughout, and the rise to the inevitable cannon-filled climax of the work were not understood in the least by my 7-year old self, but luckily, a romantic composer like Tchaikovsky doesn’t need an academic analysis to be appreciated.
Tchaikovsky probably never expected that his piece about Russia’s war with France would become an American Independence day staple, but it did, and that’s how I got introduced to his work! This concert helped me see classical music not as just the dorky stuff my parents forced on me, but as something that I myself could relish and find joy in listening (and become dorky myself). I don’t listen to the 1812 Overture much anymore, but Tchaikovsky – and now Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, and Schnittke as well, among others – remain a constant companion on road trips and long runs.
2. Teenage Years and Experiences with Pyromania:
As I grew into adolescence, the Fourth of July became much less about music and much more about explosives. I was hypnotized by the flashing lights and addicted to the adrenaline of danger and loud noises. I’d join all the neighborhood kids in lighting off rockets and Roman candles, and committed the sin that a lot of teenagers perform around this time of year: stockpiling fireworks for pranks. My poor parents had to endure a lot of fire related accidents throughout this trying life stage, but luckily none of them were serious.
The worst of these incidents I kept a secret until long after I had gone to college. Sometime, many months after July 4th, my friends and I took our remaining stockpile and launched them at 2 in the morning in a local park. After getting yelled at by a neighbor, I cleared out and fled down the street and waited for my friends to pick me up when they were finished pulling their pranks. Eventually they retrieved me, but only after attracting police attention and launching rockets out of their pickup truck bed WHILE IT WAS MOVING.
Subsequent to this close call I began to reevaluate my friendships and made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t be so stupid with flammable materials. And I (mostly) kept to that promise, though I still find campfires a lot of fun to play with.
3. Absurd Independence Day Celebrations and Why I Love America:
I remember a Fourth of July celebration in Georgetown a few years back where I thoroughly enjoyed myself. During this event, however, I distinctly recall a particularly bizarre and ironic moment involving an Elvis impersonator.
This Elvis impersonator was quite good. He sang quite well, and despite being far back in the crowd, I could see his hips gyrating in a most accurate replication of the King’s choreography. He sang a good set and danced quite a bit to the cheers, whoops, and wolf whistles of the various women and men as he showed his pelvic flexibility. In the midst of this performance however, this particular impersonator paused his set and began a seemingly unending diatribe decrying the downfall of Western Civilization and family values.
His sermonizing generated polite applause from the more traditional Georgetown audience, but it was a strange speech coming from a man imitating a sex symbol whose claim to fame included a dance considered so obscene it was censored by the Ed Sullivan show. Mere decades ago, this performer would have been castigated, and possibly arrested, for the obscene act of his dance contributing to the degradation of family values.
Now I don’t want to go into any sermonizing myself, and I consider myself a bit of a cultural traditionalist in some senses, but I bring up this story because I think it completely captures the absurd, beautiful, messy democratic experiment that is the USA – a place where values are upheld and defended, free speech is maintained, and yet also a place where we also grow in our understanding and evolve our attitudes in the face of changing perceptions and social mores. I don’t see any better example of this than an Elvis impersonator at a 4th of July concert defending family values. It’s one of the many reasons I love America.
Elvis Presley: Defender of American Values.
So my question for y’all is: What are the memories of Independence day that stick out most in your mind? I look forward to your comments.