Immigrant Songs – for a Nation of Immigrants

Last weekend, I had an experience that was about as ironic as they come, especially considering what’s going on in the U.S.A. today.

Don’t laugh when you read this, but I was watching an episode of “The Love Boat” on Saturday (yep, that cheesy ’70s and ’80s show starring Gavin Macleod and featuring that annoying theme song, silly laugh track and about three sub-plots per episode).

The cast of “The Love Boat,” circa 1980.

One of the plots in this particular episode involved a passenger who boarded the cruise ship without a ticket (or any money for that matter) and who had to work odd jobs on the boat to pay his fare.  The boat had already set sail by the time the crew discovered his financial shortcoming, so working meant doing whatever tasks the ship’s crew could find within this passenger’s capabilities while the ship cruised the Pacific.

Now, you’ll have to remember that this is Hollywood so suspend all logic or reason as to how any passenger – much less this one, who happened to be loud, gregarious and (stereotypically) African-American – could successfully board a cruise ship without proper vetting by these by-now highly experienced crew members aboard the fictional Princess Cruise line (note: this particular episode originally aired in 1986 during the series’ ninth and final season).

But back to the plot: after several failed attempts as a bartender, waiter and other assorted tasks assigned to him by the ship’s management, the wayward passenger (played by comedic actor Michael Winslow of Police Academy fame) ultimately relies on his natural talent – that of a performing artist – to become the ship’s featured entertainment in order to pay his way.

His opening skit? An unexpected, but dead-on, very non-stereotypical rendition of Robert Plant’s famous yowl in Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”

You know the one: “aah-aaah-aaaaaah-aah!”

Now, if you know rock music – particularly rock classics like “Immigrant Song” from LZ’s third album – you’ll know it’s about as white-boy rock as rock music gets.  So to see this black man performing it spot-on as part of his comedy skit conjured up several thoughts as I continued watching the episode.

One.  Color and race really shouldn’t matter.  You’d think after all these years decades, we’d get that as a nation, but we still don’t.

Two.  Music is universal…or at least international.  It’s likely one of the few things – besides the fact that we all have beating hearts with blood running through our veins and we breathe air – that binds us.

Three.  We all came here (to America, that is) from somewhere else.  Or, at least, most of our ancestors did.

Interestingly, the lyrics to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” are arguably more steeped in mythology than immigration, with fewer references to traveling to new lands than to mythical gods.  Nonetheless, in the context of what’s happening in the U.S.A. today, the timing of the show’s airing – particularly with this skit included – was striking, assuming the TV programming was coincidental.

This episode of “Love Boat” was symbolic and timely in other ways, too.  The boat itself represented the means of travel by which many American settlers initially came here from lands far away.

And the improper “vetting” of that wayward passenger brought to mind the topic that is on many people’s minds these days – that of the recent executive order issued by the president, and later overturned by a federal district court judge in Seattle, banning and subsequently restoring entry into the U.S. by refugees and would-be immigrants from seven Muslim countries.

My long lead-in was not to educate you about a cheesy 30-plus-year-old TV show, or to make light of immigration and what’s going on in this country today.  But as we all know, there’s some serious stuff coming out of Washington, DC, now – particularly at the hands of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW.

In just two weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump and his fledgling administration have managed to spark the ire of world leaders, offend whole nations (and religions), declare war against arguably the most politically neutral of cable news networks, and resurrect a 19th-century abolitionist in a flubbed attempt to kick off Black History Month.

But even worse, by issuing the now-famous travel ban, the Trump administration has stoked life-altering fears in many people who seek haven in a land the very sovereignty of which is rooted in a declaration that asserts all men are created equal with the “unalienable” right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Granted, the “all men” part of the “Declaration of Independence” has never really materialized in a nation whose own expansion and economic growth came at the hands of unwilling immigrants who were considered less than men (and women) and whose own civil rights are still being fought for nearly 400 years later (and apparently, Frederick Douglass is still doing great things to support).

But that discussion is for a different post.

The very premise of immigration can be connected to this nation’s “Declaration” in other ways, too.

For instance, the “pursuit of happiness” has been a driving force for not just American citizens – nearly all of whose roots ultimately stem from somewhere outside of North America – but for people around the globe who in many cases merely seek to escape war-torn circumstances and who mainly want to make a safer, more humane life for themselves within our U.S. borders.

The irony here, however, is that it’s 2017 – and human rights are not just being denied by ignorant folks in isolated communities whose own fears about people not like them are so easily stoked by political rhetoric and fear mongering.

They’re being challenged by the man at the very top of a nation that once prided itself on being a global leader and haven for hundreds of thousands of innocent people per year seeking refuge from war-torn countries like Syria and others.

By now you know the details of the EO, which the president signed Friday, January 27, banning all refugees for four months and Syrian ones indefinitely.  It also banned for three months visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries – including Syria along with Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia from gaining entry into the U.S. until the current system of refugee vetting (for people with potential terrorist ties) is audited.

The order’s chaotic and initially haphazard enforcement sparked many protests worldwide as hundreds of people were detained at major U.S. airports (some were sent back to their countries after having sold all of their belongings to pay for the trip here) and thousands more were delayed as their flights were affected by all the unrest.

The way in which this executive order was carried out – on a Friday with very little time or guidance given to enforcement agencies to ensure orderly implementation – and with a seemingly singular religious focus (people of Muslim faith) – makes it all the more astounding.

And now a federal judge – a legitimate one (despite Trump’s tweet to the contrary) in a U.S. district court in the state of Washington – has issued a nationwide temporary restraining order – also on a Friday – blocking the president’s ban and restoring the visas of those whose travel to the U.S. were otherwise restricted.  It’s a ruling that the White House has vowed to fight.

Oh, what’s a TSA agent to do with all this back-and forth?

More importantly, what’s an international traveler to do?

Indeed, the question of immigration, how it’s handled and its importance to America’s growth is as old as the country itself – even older.  It’s as polarizing a topic as last year’s election was.  And while many would agree that illegal immigration is not a good thing – it is, in fact, “illegal” and likely requires greater federal oversight than what’s occurred in the recent past – it’s the “how” in how we handle it that divides most people.

Whatever ultimately happens with the travel ban, you can rest assured that the system of vetting immigrants who seek refuge in the “land of the free” will never be perfect, despite the attempts of presidents and judges and agencies to make it so.

And no matter on which side of the political spectrum one falls, all of us have likely felt inspired to give out a yell akin to the one Robert Plant screams throughout his “Immigrant Song.”

You know the one: “aah-aaah-aaaaaah-aah!”

Cover art for Led Zeppelin’s classic, “Immigrant Song.”

And with all that said, the current focus on immigration has caused djrobblog – which is, by the way, still a music blog – to research some of the best songs on the topic.  Yes, LZ’s “The Immigrant Song” is one of them, but there are several others and I’ve identified what I believe to be the ten best songs to capture the subject of refugees and immigration.

Who and what do you think made the list?  There’s only one way to find out:  scroll just below and click through the djroblist of Ten Best Immigrant Songs, courtesy of djrobblog.

Headline for Immigrant Songs - for a Nation of Immigrants
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Feb 04, 2017 - youtube.com - 5
10. American Oxygen - Rihanna

Barbadian singer and superstar Rihanna kicks off this immigration countdown with a 2015 song that went far deeper lyrically than her hits catalog normally does. Maybe that's why it's one of the least successful chart hits in her repertoire that includes nearly 30 top-tens, fourteen of which reached #1 (as of this writing). "American Oxygen," which is a somewhat sarcastic nod to the pursuit of the American Dream, peaked at a paultry #78 on the Billboard Hot 100.

You can also hear the songs by clicking this Spotify playlist.

As always thanks for the love and support of djrobblog!

DJRob

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