Commentary

On The Fourth, U.S.A. Is Still 'Paradise' For Some

What unites Americans? Generally speaking, the Fourth of July does. And so do hamburgers.

And this weekend, a singer famous for singing about hamburgers -- specifically, the ones with cheese -- will enliven PBS’s annual July Fourth special, “A Capitol Fourth,” on Sunday with his own rendition of “This Land Is Your Land.” 

The singer is Jimmy Buffett, whose music tends to celebrate the relaxed, casual lifestyle for which America and its freedom-loving citizens are known and admired throughout the world. 

This includes their preference for unfancy foods such as cheeseburgers, as in “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” the title of one of Buffett’s most famous songs.

Another great American, the late Chuck Berry, also sang about hamburgers in his famous ode to America, “Back In the U.S.A.” 

“Looking hard for a drive-in, searchin’ for a corner café!” he sang. “… where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day!”

The lyrics of that song, released as a single in June 1959 (with Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” on the B-side), echoed the coast-to-coast sweep of “This Land Is Your Land,” written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 and due to be performed this weekend on PBS by Jimmy Buffett.

“From the coast of California to the shores of Delaware Bay,” sang Chuck Berry. Similarly, Woody Guthrie sang of “California to the New York island, from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters …”

“This land was made for you and me,” sang Guthrie. “I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A.!” sang Chuck Berry.

“A big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat … cheeseburger in paradise! Heaven on Earth with an onion slice!” sang Jimmy Buffett in his own, unique salute to America. 

Buffett’s performance of “This Land Is Your Land” will be seen on tape, as will all of the other performances scheduled for this year’s 90-minute “Capitol Fourth” special.

According to PBS, a live performance with a real audience on the U.S. Capitol building’s south lawn is still not possible due to pandemic restrictions still in place in Washington.

Buffett’s “This Land Is Your Land” was taped in southern California overlooking the Pacific. It will be accompanied by images of American landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and others.

Other stars scheduled to perform include Alan Jackson and Gladys Knight. Opera star Renee Fleming will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” to open the show, which will be hosted by Vanessa Williams.

As for Jimmy Buffett, his interpretation of “This Land Is Your Land” is being described by PBS as a “stirring new rendition,” although a press release did not explain whether this means Buffett plans to perform it in some new and untraditional way.

“A Capitol Fourth” airs Sunday, July Fourth, at 8 p.m. Eastern on PBS.

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