Sunday, November 9, 2008


What a week, America! Thank God the weekend is here! This should give you a chance to clear the adrenaline and alcohol out of your system and soothe your jangled nerves. You will never forget this week as long as you live--and not just for the record number of mini-tacos you consumed while screaming at the television. This is history, babe. Now take a breather.

In this short film from 1945, Frank Sinatra teaches a gang of street kids a lesson about tolerance, and sings "The House I Live In (That's America to Me)." This film might puzzle you now that racism no longer exists. Just kidding. The short was made to combat prejudice and antisemitism at the end of World War II, when soldiers came home from fighting Hitler's "racial superiority" overseas to find a segregated, racist America just the way they'd left it.

The film is dated, for sure, and it might make you wince in spots--the crack about "the Japs" is unfortunate--but judged in the context of its time, when it was first screened in theaters in 1945, it can be seen as an honest attempt to teach tolerance. It seems corny now, but this recent presidential election made it clear that such a message isn't completely irrelevant in some backwards corners of the country. I'm just saying...

"The House I Live In" was written in 1943, with lyrics by Abel Meeropol and music by Earl Robinson. Meeropol wrote under the pen name Lewis Allan, and had very liberal views and mixed feelings about America. He loved the constitutional rights and freedoms of America, but was sickened by its racism, antisemitism, and mistreatment of people with unpopular political views. America was at war with Nazi Germany, where those attitudes ruled, when Meeropol wrote these lyrics to explain what was right about America.

Abel Meeropol (1903-1986), poet, songwriter, high school teacher from the Bronx

It should come as no surprise that Meeropol was hounded by the US government for his liberal (some would say communist) views. Earl Robinson was also blacklisted. Like many progressives, Meeropol took an interest in the controversial case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a married couple executed as spies in 1953. Meeropol felt they were wrongly accused, and he and his wife adopted their orphaned sons, Michael and Robert. The boys took Meeropol's last name (it was easier to be a Meeropol than a Rosenberg at the time), and have spent their adult lives trying to clear their birth parents' names.

Meeropol also wrote "Strange Fruit," a haunting poem about the horrors of lynching which became the signature song of jazz singer Billie Holiday.

-information from songfacts

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