U.S. Blues

Red and white, blue suede shoes.
I’m Uncle Sam, how do you do?
Gimme five, still alive.
Ain’t no luck, I learned to duck.

I spent the three days leading up to Independence Day as any real red-blooded American should, at the run of Grateful Dead shows in Boulder, Colorado. Well, not technically the Grateful Dead, because Jerry Garcia has been gone now for some 29 years. But the music and the community and the ethos live on in its current form as Dead & Company.

I have talked about the timeless American values I see in Jerry Garcia’s legacy and the Deadhead community in a video I made at the Gorge shows in 2019. In many ways I see Dead culture as a metaphor for the idea of America, with all the beautiful chaos, entrepreneurial creativity, radical independence, and a strong sense of community and belonging, wrapped up in one shared journey forward.

Wave that flag.
Wave it high and wide.
Summertime done come and gone, my oh my.

On Sunday the Dead played their classic anthem U.S. Blues. The song, which I’ve heard live countless times since the 1980s, felt particularly of-the-moment, even though it was written by Dead lyricist Robert Hunter in 1973. Hunter/Garcia tunes have always felt personal and relevant though, and that’s part of what makes the Grateful Dead song catalogue pass the test of time. The words speak to you, personally. They don’t ever really tell you everything, and they certainly never tell you what to think. That would be very un-Dead. So it’s easy for me to find fresh poignancy in U.S. Blues. Is it a patriotic song? Is it a scathing critique of the contradictions of America? An anti-war anthem? Yes, yes, and yes.

But what I hear in the song, naturally, is a very libertarian critique of Uncle Sam himself, who makes it clear what he’s all about in the fourth verse:

I’ll drink your health, share your wealth.
Run your life, steal your wife.

Is it just me, or do these lines, originally penned in the pessimistic days at the end of the Vietnam War debacle—when it felt like everything was falling apart—apply equally to the past three years? Health mandates? Unchecked wealth redistribution? Faceless bureaucrats deciding if you could work or travel? Needless loss of life? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

If anything, Uncle Sam has gotten worse, not better. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We’re all confused, what’s to lose?
You can call this song the United States Blues.

Some friends have suggested the irony of celebrating Independence Day after all the government has done to strip our independence from us since March of 2020. What sort of independence, they ask, are we celebrating? It’s a good question, and I too see the contradictions of many fellow Americans on full display. Freedom and independence, yes! Unless I’m scared, that is. Too few Americans even bothered to push back against all the pandemic authoritarianism, particularly among the comfortable elites of the Laptop Class. I’m still struggling to come to terms with this sad reality.

But for me, Independence Day has never been about celebrating the government, or even my fellow citizens who don’t seem to cherish liberty nearly enough. I celebrate the idea of America—red, white, and blue—despite our failings to live up to her ideal.

You see, I love my country, but I don’t trust the government. Because I love my country.

On this July 4th, I hope you’ll choose to celebrate Independence Day with me. It’s a great reminder of what we all fight for, every day, together.

P.S. Since I didn’t see you at the show, here’s a short clip.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Matt Kibbe

Matt Kibbe is President at Free the People, an educational foundation using video storytelling to turn on the next generation to the values of personal liberty and peaceful cooperation. He is also co-founder and partner at Fight the Power Productions, a video and strategic communications company. Kibbe is the host of BlazeTV’s Kibbe on Liberty, a popular podcast that insists that you think for yourself.

Dubbed “the scribe” by the New York Daily News, Kibbe is the author three books, most recently the #2 New York Times bestseller Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto.

He was senior advisor for a Rand Paul Presidential Super PAC in 2016, and later co-founded AlternativePAC to promote libertarian values.

In 2004 Kibbe founded FreedomWorks, a national grassroots advocacy organization, and served as President until his departure in 2015. Steve Forbes said: “Kibbe has been to FreedomWorks what Steve Jobs was to Apple.”

An economist by training, Kibbe did graduate work at George Mason University and received his B.A. from Grove City College. He serves at the whim of his awesome wife Terry, and their three objectivist cats, Roark, Ragnar and Rearden. Kibbe is a fanatical DeadHead, drinker of craft beer and whisky, and collector of obscure books on Austrian economics.

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1 comment

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  • Matt, follow you once in a while when I need a break from Salt Cracker or whatever his name is. You missed a big point of these shows and that is the band members and probably about 95% of the audience are mindless sheep. There is no counter revolution going on at these shows. I have stopped going to shows ie; phish and dead cause they required vaccine or proof of a test for 2 year straight. They are all in on the government and whatever they are told. I know you have your lefty tendencies, unless you changed your tune on George Floyd. I know it is hard to walk away from the music, but the message is all fake and was never real to begin with. I am still tempted to go to Blues and Brews and some shows, but have been filling myself with scripture to get my fill. If your still doing drugs you need to stop now. What are you running from?

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