Dan Bern

The Swastika

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Bruce Springsteen tapped into America's collective pain in order to initiate the process of healing. Steve Earle wanted Americans to understand what sort of mindset led to its infliction. Both were worthy ideals. Dan Bern joined the shortlist of major songwriters reacting to the tragic circumstances of 9-11 with his The Swastika EP and chose a different, though no less valuable, tact: to mock the leaders who would use the tragedy to increase their political capital while taking a police baton to the civil liberties of the rest of America. During his bid for reelection in 1984, Ronald Reagan famously, cluelessly, and comically used the Boss' hit "Born in the U.S.A." as one of his "patriotic" stump themes, apparently failing to grasp its decidedly scathing portrait of Reagan's America. All moral and intellectual similarities to that administration aside, it's safe to assume that George W. Bush wouldn't touch "Talkin' Al Kida Blues" with a ten-gallon malapropism, no matter how apropos. If there is any truth to the old maxim that the pen is mightier than the preemptive nuclear strike, the opening track on The Swastika is a direct hit on Dubya's America, exposing the slippery constitutional slope down which his merry band of war hawks sledded America in the aftermath of 9-11. Above and beyond that, the song puts the grievous WTC events into a vitally necessary historical context and perspective, frightening if it weren't so absurd, and in Bern's recounting, so absurdly funny. Speaking of funny, both Charlie Chaplin and Mel Brooks managed to transform the terrors of Hitler into comedy. And so does Bern with the playful rockabilly of "My Little Swastika," on which the songwriter successfully reclaims from the Nazis a millennia-old symbol of goodwill. But it is the hauntingly epic "Lithuania," a paean to the Jewish contribution to American culture, that finally gives the EP its gravitas.

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