When I was a young girl sitting on my momma's knee
she told me to love freedom and to keep my dignity
out in the country down in Georgia.
In the tallgrass and Queen Anne's lace I began to love America.
My Stars appears on the between-album EP Warbird by indie rock band Jucifer. Performed by the married duo of Amber Valentine (vocals and guitar) and Edgar Livengood (drums) the EP is fast and gutteral, filled with agressive drumlines and paralyzing guitar riffs. Five songs of this 2004 Velocette Records label production follow the mold, knocking its listeners back into their seats with amp blowing sounds and moody lyrics. That mold gets broken with the suddenly up tempo folk song My Stars, a song that features Valentine's incredible vocal range on a backdrop of gentle picking and the most subdued drums on the EP. Clocking in at 3:55 in length, the song showcases the extraordinary songwriting ability of Valentine when she sets herself to it.
When I went to elementary school I learned to cuss,
learned to pray to a protestant God and in Him we trust.
I pledge allegiance to America...
in the concrete walls and wooden desks I learned the scriptures of America.
My Stars has a different feel than any other song from War Bird. Right away a twanging beat races ahead of the quiet lyrics, which occasionally dip down into Valentine's husky whisper. The tempo of the song becomes oh so gradually accelerated as the stanzas pass as if the words are trying to catch up with the musical accompanyment, like two horses matched stride for stride down a long home stretch. While the song is made up of some repetitive chords and rhythms, the lyrics are deep and insightful enough to more than make up for the standard guitar strumming patterns.
When I went to high school I learned how we hate
all the fears and shadows we use to segregate
the people of America.
We hold some lies to be self-evident in America.
Looking beyond the rich sound of My Stars a listener will find an intricate tale of a young woman growing up in America. Told with an introspective eye to her own past, Valentine croons delicately about her early experiences, and what she learned both from her mother and her first classes. She relates to her audience how she began to love America -- love its spirit and its idealologies. She began to love America's purity...
But then, our speaker begins a second education, and the bright sky of youth clouds over...
Experience, claims the empiricist, is the only true source of all our knowledge. Experience, claims the lyrics of My Stars leads to the end of innocence, to the disrupture of an American Dream. It may just be a dreaming girl's singularity, this dream of sitting in a backyard watching wind blown tallgrass wave this way and yonder, but it is still a person's dream of a life fullfilled, and the harsh reality of growing up kills that dream.
When I was in Dallas I stood up all night long
thinking about ... murder
and what it takes to buy a soul in America...
...but it's still my America.
It is in stanza four, about halfway through the song, when the song comes alive. A quickened pulse of a drumbeat and a slight tempo change in the lyrics is all the listener needs to notice that the mood becomes darker. The singing, while still delicate and in key, has a disappointed edge to it; you can hear the anger building in the voice of Valentine. The song slowly builds to a political criticism starting with "comes the darkness of America." The subtle line foils the preceding vibrant examples of burning crosses and a lightless desert and foreshadows the doubt found in the later stanzas. The doubt is questioning the existence of American freedom. Are American citizens free to act as they may with their protected rights, or is it all a political puppet show? Is America as safe as we are led to believe, or are her borders open to infiltration?
Down in Alabama where the crosses burn so bright,
way out in the desert where your eyes can't hold the light,
and from the mouths of fools who tell you money always makes right...
comes the darkness of America,
The political outrage, and downright questioning of freedoms, in this song reminded me immediately of a speech in the middle of Richard Linklater's experimental film Waking Life. The speech is made by a man walking through a town and past a gas station. The man, in a graphic display of helplessness, sets himself on fire at the end of his diatribe. The tone of that speech relates directly to the dissapointment at the end of My Stars. Valentine sings that "they (those who deny freedom) just don't understand America," to illustrate how out of touch the people in power are to the wants of a nation who more often than not votes for the lesser of two evils on election day. She is trying to explain how not all actions taken by the government are desired by the public, and the fact that we are militarily on the offensive, "hard at war," does not necessarily make the homefront any safer.
From the glitter of Miama to the wild Alaskan shore,
and the greed of the wealthy and the faith of the poor
this is all our America.
And if they tell you we can't use her freedom anymore,
well they don't stand for our America
My Stars is a song full of longing. Longing for a better America, wanting for an America where people can live out their simple dreams and share them with their family and neighbors. It's a tired song filled with tired optimism that Our America is attainable to be shared by all. With a rhythm that quickly ingrains itself in your head and meaningful lyrics which take multiple listenings to fully appreciate, My Stars is the standout track of Warbird and one of Jucifer's strongest recorded offerings.
If they tell you miles of freedom is a cost we can't afford,
they shore up the government, and keep us hard at war
til one by one give up our rights til our borders seem secure,
and disagreement will be treason, we'll have no voice anymore.
They just don't understand America,
Small centered type -- My Stars by Jucifer