In 1927, Mark Sullivan wrote a book titled Our Times: The United States, 1900-1925. Part II of this work is called America Finding Herself, the first chapter of which is “The American Mind.” Here Sullivan defines a nation’s culture as consisting of, among other things, “the points of view every one has about individual conduct and social relations…his standards of taste and morals, his store of accepted wisdom which he expresses in proverbs and aphorisms; his venerations and loyalties, his prejudices and biases, his canons of conventionality; the whole group of ideas held in common by most of the people.” He goes onto explain that we learn these things from our parents and our system of education.
Webster’s definition of education is as such: “2. The knowledge or skill obtained or developed by such a process : LEARNING.” I note this to emphasize that the classroom need not necessarily apply to education. In fact, I would argue much educating, the kind that sticks and supports integrally, is found outside of a walled room. Learning is to be had in bars and underneath bras; on trains and in shallow waters; in movies and meadows; at the bottom of a bottle and the end of a race. And all the things I know can be found in song because music is the slate upon which Americans write their lessons–present but chalky, a mere swipe away from irrelevance.
With his 2007 album American Hearts, A.A. Bondy takes it upon himself to quietly draw us a roadmap to American history. Bondy’s songs so masterfully incorporate American imagery that the listener fails to know he/she are learning. This is the best form of education. American Exceptionalism, in particular, is on display from the battle cry of Don’t Tread on Me repeated in “American Hearts” to the reckless wanderer as outlined in “Killed Myself When I Was Young.” The track that filets the American mind best is “Rapture (Sweet Rapture)” for we are nothing if not descended from a group of miscreant Christians looking for the Rapture on their own terms in a City on a Hill. Even all these generations later, most of us are still looking for that City, for some sign, for a voice that brings us home. That’s the essence of an American heart: belief abutting doubt atop a bed of impudence in the lonely drive West.
What an education.