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Dan Bern & the IJBC, My America II (Messenger)
by: Steve Horowitz

Mount Vernon, Iowa native Dan Bern has always expressed strong, radical, and imaginative political views. His latest EP has a special urgency, released to help influence and inspire voters for the forthcoming presidential election. There's no doubt where Bern stands. If the pointed lyrics of the first seven cuts aren't clear enough, Bern spells it out large on the eighth song, the anthemic "Bush Must Be Defeated." The tune begins with a solo martial drum beat for more than 20 seconds followed by about a half dozen repetitions of the title phrase. Bern then somberly vocalizes, "His evil gang unseated/his base of power deleted/his energy depleted." But it doesn't take long for Bern to get back to his usual, comic-surreal mode. Soon Bern is singing about taking the cleats of Bush's golf shoes and short sheeting the White House bed. This is quintessential Bern, mixing the humorous with the serious to make his intentions known.

Consider the first song, "President," in which Bern imagines he became the president of the United States. As our country's leader, President Bern starts with a 10-step program that includes granting Mexico and Cuba statehood, making citizens of all ages members of the armed forces, and abolishing the death penalty. He then declares national holidays that include nude day, painting day, tennis day and sex with impunity day. Bern's sincere and creative mixture of so-called important political concerns with what some consider trivial personal ones reveals the intimate connections between the two. The comic elements make one ponder, well why couldn't there be such a world. Making everyone part of the military makes as much sense as Bush's backdoor draft of the National Guard. Making a holiday where everyone plays tennis makes as much sense as having a Presidents' Day that is significant as the time of year when stores sell their white goods at a discount..

Bern puts Pete Seeger's protest poem "The Torn Flag" to music and on other songs Bern addresses the plight of veterans, the disenfranchised, the war in Iraq, and a multitude of notable concerns. On "Ostrich Town," Bern puts the blame on the people themselves (and their chosen leaders), who would prefer to be ignorant of the world's ills than try to resolve them. The image of those who willingly put their heads in the sand while bombs explode elsewhere seems an appropriate description of America today in light of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the explosive Middle East, the genocide in Sudan and other global problems.

Always the gadfly, Bern stands up and recites our country's ills as he simultaneously announces his allegiance. This is especially true in the title song, where he says he's never burned an American flag, but he's never flown one either: "You won't find a flag on my doorstep/on the Fourth of July/Too many criminals try to wrap themselves inside of it/Stands for too many lies/but it's my country, too." He's our generation's Thomas Paine whose common sense tells us that we can create a better world that would be more fun for us all to live in, where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are our shared goals.