It took me a long time to understand what we were singing about when we sang "America the Beautiful" back in the Boys Choir. What in the hell are "purple mountain majesties" anyway? Piecing together the meanings of "purple" and "mountain" and "majesties" back then, I figured we were singing about America being king of the hill. That seemed logical enough. Hadn't America almost single-handedly saved the world from the Germans and the Japs (we thought so back then). But "fruited plain?" What is a "fruited plain?" I thought the words were "fruited plane" and decided it had something to do with Chiquita Banana flying DC-3s packed with golden bunches my way from somewhere in Central America. Naughtier friends in the Boys Choir speculated that the words were actually "fruity plains" and had something to do with "queers" (as we called gay people in those days) in the "plains" where all of those "amber waves of grain" grew. Frightened, homophobic, mostly pre-pubescent boys sabotaged the song and sang "fruity plains" and giggled as if we understood what we were saying. It was our only defense against the mystery and thrill of it all (and against the homosexual farmers waving and tending all of that amber grain). We must have learned other verses, but like most Americans I only remember the purple mountains and fruity planes parts.
It turns out there are seven more "O Beautifuls" after that. And for what?
- "...for pilgrim feet" (and the pilgrims' "stern impassioned stress"), wherein God is invoked to stitch up some flaws and "America, America" is asked to "confrim thy soul in self-control..." (those damned stern pilgrims and their big-footed self-control!).
- "...for heroes proved," wherein God is once more invoked (this time as some sort of gold smelter) touching "America, America" with "divine" gains (I suppose this verse has something to do with the cost of freedom, God, and the bargains at Wal-Mart).
- "...for patriot dream..." which includes "alabaster cities" (more on this later) and entreats "America, America" to practice more "good and brotherhood" and rhymes "dream" and "gleam" (those alabaster cities gleam) and "years" and "tears." And God's grace and "crowning" (Americans are crown-haunted people, apparently in fear of becoming Canadians) are in there too.
- "...for halcyon skies" with more "amber" grain and "purple mountain majesties," (repitition already) only this time the plains are "enameled." Enameled? Why? Maybe God knows how to smelt gold AND enamel plains, but how can enamel plains grow amber grain? Maybe it's a trick those homosexual farmers know. There is more of God's grace "on thee" followed by the lines, "Til souls wax fair as earth and air/And music-hearted sea!" Waxed souls, Earth, Wind and Fire (and musical seas)? Come on. I think the writer needed a word to rhyme with "thee" and somehow misplaced her thesaurus.
- And again "...for pilgims' feet..." (and more "impassioned stress" of course) only this time thought control is thrown into the mix as "paths are wrought through/wilds of thought" by those pilgrim feet (actually "By pilgrim foot and knee?"). Apparently those stomping, kneeing pilgrims play dirty when it comes to mind control in the name of God and America. Pilgrims sound like Scientologists.
- Then we come to "...for glory-tale.." which introduces American self-justification but also the notion that "selfish gain" just might be a "stain" on the "banner of the free" and that there might be some evil lurking in the comingling of God, democracy and capitalism (But who believes that? Wal-Mart isn't in the stain remover business).
- And finally we return to that "...of patriot dream" of "alabaster cities gleam" (those alabaster cities gleaming again), only this time the dream looks to a future when "nobler men keep once again/Thy whiter jubilee." This seems to be a clear reference to the powerful desire among Tea Partiers and other white people (the ones who always deny that they are racists) to dump Obama, put the crown back on the white guy's head where it belongs, knee the homosexual farmers right in their fruity, enameled plains, restore some good old-fashioned pilgrim self control (and thought control while we're at it), wax some souls, play some Earth, Wind and Fire, shop at Wal-Mart, pretend there are no greedy stains on the banner of freedom, and stomp the shit out of Katie Holmes. America! Beautiful! Hallelujah!
That's it. Everything we are.
But how was a pre-pubescent choirboy supposed to understand all of that "America, America" stuff was leading up to a big white jubilee (not only white, but "whiter"). Who knew? Let's boogie children.