When you write a song that becomes as iconic as “Independence Day”, it takes on a life of its own, which can feel very different from the life you intended for it. None of what happened to that song, and to me as a result of it, was in any way predictable. 25 years and two surreal encounters with Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin later, it really hasn’t felt much like my song in awhile. I haven’t played it live for at least two years, and before that only occasionally. When I did play it, I played it like a slow, sad piano ballad, not a heart-pumping anthem. And to be honest, I haven’t really wanted to play it for years. I wanted to retire it, not because I was ashamed or tired of it, but because it felt like something that wasn’t wholly mine anymore.
When your song is assigned an entire set of cultural values based on a false premise (it was never a song about America, it was always a song about a woman who was trying to save her own life and that of her child) it starts to feel tainted. It feels like words have been put in your mouth that you never said. I always said I was proud to have written the song (and I am) but the truth is I wanted to distance myself from it. And it took Zach Shultz to show me why. His essay on “Independence Day” brought me back full circle to the reason I wrote it. It made me proud. It made me feel like “Independence Day” was mine again.
The thought that my song would move a gay man in his 30s living in New York City to write,
“Today I choose to revel in the message of Martina McBride’s song, to recognize the political intent of Gretchen Peters, and to reclaim “Independence Day” as a call to independence from patriarchy, from a culture that would tell a woman, or any other person for that matter, to stand by an abusive partner at all costs. I choose to celebrate Independence Day as a day to freely criticize the policies of my country as it tears children away from their parents and locks them in cages; I celebrate Independence Day for the strong women who have escaped the oppressive strictures of unhealthy marriages and are choosing better lives; I celebrate the crowds of protesters who resisted the fascism of the current administration in a march across the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend; I celebrate the courage of the #MeToo movement and the overdue cultural reckoning it is bringing; I celebrate the independence to wake up every day and be our authentic selves.”
gives me a profound sense of wonder – wonder that something I wrote sitting on my bedroom floor in Nashville when Zach Shultz was a toddler has that kind of supernatural reach. Though many people have tried to twist it to suit their own motives, this particular song is stronger and more resilient than anyone, myself included, knew.
Songs are miraculous that way. They persist, they take on layers of meaning over the years, and sometimes they shed them, too. The people who love them keep them alive, they take courage and hope and inspiration from them, and the songs, if they are worthy, stand up to almost anything. I’m so grateful to Zach for writing this piece. I’m going to start playing my song again. Listen to the words.