Sunday, October 25, 2015

The greatness of America

I have been carrying around something I heard from a linguistics professor a few months ago. He said that people everywhere, all throughout history, have spoken more than one language. It is part of human nature to be multi-lingual, and what we see in America, where so many people can only speak one language (this super cool one I am using right now!), is a historical anomaly.

I don't generally take aspersions cast against my people very hard, but when they apply directly to me as well I don't find them entirely comfortable. I only speak one language. And though I could bluster through the whole thing on a Quality over Quantity argument, I have remained uneasy. Unconsciously I have cast around for a compensating genius of America, something that would let us Americans say "In your face Europe!" or "In your face Africa!" or "In your face Asia!", but in the way of friendly competition as opposed to our fallback of bombing.

For months I came up dry and all we could do was kill random people around the world in frustration.

But last night I went to The Riverview Cafe. My wife and I bought some wine and settled down at a table to watch the ever entertaining Thursday night open mike night. As far as I can tell the rules change slightly based on how many performers show up. You can sing, or play, two songs on busy nights, three songs on more moderate nights. There's a time limit too. The excellent host/soundman strictly enforces those limits.

I looked around the room with trepidation. My shamefully judgmental, image conscious nature escaped from its holding cell and expected disaster. The assembled crowd was not glamorous. I faced an old man whose mouth hung gaping open. An obese woman who yelled inappropriate things brushed her hair obsessively in front of me. A weird, super folky guy with a comb over prepared his harmonica and emotionally got in the spirit with thin blonde woman who was a dead ringer for the lead singer of the Muppets rock band (that's Janice, then, of the Electric Mayhem), but aged on another 30 years or so. Old people, street people, people with bizarre chins, all there waiting for their strange moment in the spotlight.

And, huzzah, everyone of them was good. Old people, crazy people, creepy people, they were all at least pretty damn good!

Take that!.... someone.

Out of every caricature came a person. The catalog of songs was deep. Songs that were covered were unpredictable in choice and approach, and the ones that were written, at their best, went so far as to approach greatness. People who could barely seem to talk could sing. No one abused their harmonica. And everyone could play guitar.

Everyone could play guitar.

And there we are saved and can stop bombing and assassinating the world. We are lost in the hegemony of our language, complacent in our cultural domination. We are smug in our power and psychotic wealth. We are weird, uncouth, self-destroying, and savage. But here, in America, every last one of us can play the guitar.

Take that, World.


  1. This is truly beautiful, but I too play the guitar. :o)

    "Take that!.... someone."

    With the amount of languages no longer with us; this seems less like an anomoly and more like a sign of where we are heading.

    1. Thanks.

      But then if you play the guitar you must be American! I'm pretty sure Florida is part of America even if it's out on a far corner of it.

      You might be right about the less of an anomaly, but I got the impression from that linguistic prof that it holds true even if the variety of languages lessens- like people knowing two or three very common languages as opposed to knowing a common one and one or two less common ones.


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