Wailing “God Bless America…” is not the selling point on which you can convince someone of a song’s cathartic merits, even if this song magnifies in grace over one of the most astounding cinematic closing sequences ever, James Guercio’s wirey, disillusioned, Electra Glide In Blue. Tell Me, also written by Guercio, and delivered as a stinging heartbroken lament for the common man by Chicago’s Terry Kath, swings on a pendulum that the furstrated U.S.A 1973 is bitterly laid bare. You’ve heard it all before, here’s a cop just trying to do his job, coming up against the Volkswagen mini-buses jammed with the bummed-out who can’t swim anymore through the bullshit equally the fault of Democrats as it is of Republicans. Something is going to give on the windy highway while Nixon and McGovern find time for a round or two of golf.
Tell Me swings that pendulum in its favour on two things, firstly, the recognition of the bullshit, and how the “everyday Joe” is being alienated from their own national sense of belonging on a daily basis, and secondly, it is quite frankly one of the most beautiful songs ever. The “America” that Guercio writes of, stunningly captured in all of its naked horror and beauty by Kath’s downtrodden raspiness is not the jingoisitc flag waving utopia, it is one of moustached middle-aged men watching the sun go down with a few beers, wondering if they will have a job in a few weeks time. It is the America of the cop knowing he’s always going to be a pig no matter how many helpless kids he will plough through bone-chilling water for in a blacker than black lake on a murky December night.
Officer John Wintergreen and Terry Kath are inseperable, as the cruelty of America’s million and one ironies rip them down in the quick fire way classic cinema is grounded upon. One a pre-cursor of the other’s tragedy, the other an angel of death trying to grasp his own emotional wreckage and sing for the souls of the highway, the rocky peaks, and the alienated Americans who sweep through it everyday. These are the Americans in one of the ultimate people songs, an America lost and alone, not of the shitty politicians for whom blasphemy goes hand in hand with saluting a tattered flag. Tell Me will break your heart, with or without Wintergreen’s demise or Kath’s spectre moaning through the gospel choir who keep him standing up straight, it’s a broken heart worth having though. If you want the real State of the Union address, go ask Messers Guercio, Kath, and Wintergreen. Then you’ll know just how important that blessing really is.