70s Rock and American Exceptionalism

styxI’m not old enough to remember rock from the mid-70s (OK, late 70s, yes). But I did love the Styx when I was a teenager in the 80s. “Suite Madame Blue” was one of my favorites. When I was a student at Furman University, I took a course on the US in the 1960s and 70s with Dr. Marian Strobel, a specialist on the period. While studying Watergate and the Vietnam War, “Suite Madame Blue” suddenly became meaningful. I understood what the song was about.

“Suite Madame Blue” is a metaphor for the United States. If you listen to the lyrics, especially at the end, you can hear the poignancy in the song, the nostalgia for an innocence that has been lost. The song reflects a particular introspection, a self-examination, that can be traced back to the Puritan colonists. The song seems to be attempting to say, “Something’s not right here. We’ve betrayed our identity. We need to recover ourselves as a nation.”

National self-examination and self-critique are unique traits of Americans. Americans have long been unsatisfied with their experiment in self government, justice, and faithfulness to the ideals upon which they established their nation. Because America’s founding is on ideas, it has a national conscience, and the voice of that conscience has been heard through spokesmen like William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abraham Lincoln, W. E. B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Billy Graham. I dare say, it can also be heard in the voice of a righteous band from the 70s.

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