Tina Rowley

writer + (performer) + [space left open for surprises]

usa: a messy ode

I would have been born on the 4th of July, but I exited my mom a touch too fast. She had what she thought was indigestion at 10pm on the 3rd, and at 11:34pm I shot out. Sort of wish I could have held out for twenty-six more minutes. It's not like I was going to get any real work done in that first half an hour. Oh, well. The first time I saw fireworks, I thought, "Are these for me? Are we still celebrating?!"

Happy Birthday, you old horse! 235. You don't look a day over a hundred and eleven.

When I was traveling in Europe back in 1992, Nirvana had recently burst onto the global scene. Lord, it was nice moving around in their glowing wake as a Seattleite. When you travel the world as an American, you frequently get that "Hello, NEWman" vibe from the natives. We've done plenty to bring that on, but it was a relief to be welcomed as a friend. "You're from Seattle? Fantastic! What is it like?!" Oh, it's magic. Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell and all of us young kids, we all live on the same block, and, well, we all go out onto our stoops and make meaningful, discordant noises in our flannel shirts. It's like Swinging London, or riding on Ken Kesey's bus through Haight-Ashbury. It's a constant wonder. Let us hold hands and accept this vision, for both of our sakes.

No, most of the time when you travel as an American, you can see the eyes begin to roll back in people's heads as soon as your origins are revealed. Many times I've seen people assume that I'd have no sense of humor, and when it came out that I do, they were visibly amazed, like I'd unfurled a giant set of wings or grown a couple of extra heads. (I'll address this phenomenon later, but for now let me just say regarding America and comedy: people, please.)

(Oh: speaking of. I haven't been able to contribute lately, but here are some pieces I've written for this fine site right here. I've been meaning to link and forgotten to. They are humor-style pieces, see? That's why I bring it up. That's why I bring it up, ENGLAND*.)

*Oh, England. You were the most suspicious of all. Sigh.

It's never nice to feel embarrassed to inhabit your nationality, and while I completely get America Fatigue, it's the fucking 4th of July, motherfuckers! Yes, we're arrogant. Sure, we're dumb. Totally, we're fat. Yes, we know. But I'm here to talk about some of the things that make me feel proud and glad to be riding around in an American suit in this lifetime.


1. The Movies/The Movie Stars.

We don't make the only movies, and we do make a million shitty movies, too, but we make the fucking movies. You are welcome for Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, and you're welcome for DeNiro and Pacino and Hoffman in the 70's, and you're welcome for Star Wars and Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Motherfucking Ark and...and...Casablanca and....what were the good recent movies? Who cares! There were some. You're welcome for those!

2. Jazz, Blues, and Rock and Roll.

I think about when these musical forms were new, and what it said about the people who had the temperament to make way and let them through. Tight and loose, earthy and light, rough and humorous. That music was born here for a reason.

3. The American landscapes

The craggy, hollowed-out, furious pastels of the Southwest. The dripping, serene gloom of the Northwest. The lush and swampy bayou. New England foliage on fire in the autumn. Big Sur. The Rockies like giant, jagged Orca whales. Endless, flat, madness-inducing, character-building prairies. American wildlife. Mountain lions and rattlesnakes and bears and squirrels. (I'm just riffing now, and it's sloppy, but sloppy riffing is some of what makes us who we are!)

4. American Humor

Mark Twain and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Bill Hicks and Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David and Groucho Marx and Maria Bamford and Bob Newhart and Kathy Griffin and Animal House and Spinal Tap and Rushmore and Caddyshack and the opening twenty minutes of Elf and The Onion and McSweeney's Internet Tendency and The Hairpin and I haven't even scratched the surface. People, PLEASE.

No more categories. Walt Whitman. The Beat Generation. Jack Kerouac. New York through all of it. Boomboxes on shoulders. Hair metal. Patsy Cline. The cheeseburger. Converse All-Stars. Basketball. Southern drawl. Bronx cheer. Austin, Texas. Cambridge, Mass. Berkeley, CA. Irreverence and earnestness and naivete and book smarts and street smarts. Nonconformity. Tradition. Friendliness. "Bring it on."

And I haven't even touched on the larger movements, the social and political highlights. We have had a few. I'm running out of time so I'm not going to try and do them justice. But the night of November 4th, 2008 - no matter what you think about Barack Obama and his politics and how his term is going - that night gave me an injection of pride so deep and full that I'll be feeling it for the rest of my life.

I'm in a hurry, but if I don't say it today, I'll never say it, and if I don't say it now, I won't say it today. Quality Control has gone to a barbecue, so this is going to have to do. I didn't do anything justice, I didn't come anywhere close, but I tried. If the high-five missed the hand, oh, well. You saw where my hand was going. You got the point. It's a quick sketch.

This is a celebration, my friends. Everything else will be there waiting for us in the morning.