Stripping Stars and Stripes
Last night I watched the Maysles bros. 1970 docu masterwork Gimme Shelter.
So among the many goose-bumped moments Gimme Shelter rang out of me, I had a series of barely related synapse-flashes flickering out of Mic Jagger’s collapsible American Flag Magician’s hat.
First was 1996. To a pair of shoes I had in Junior High.
They were American flag converse.
Next a Sublime video for “What I Got” which would have been 1997 (thanks google!) and how seeing my starred and striped cons on a fat white skater guy changed how I saw myself and my shoes.
Then, losing one of the shoes playing dirt-clot war in a trampled down-hay field.
It was probably for the better, by that time they were duct-taped shut where the canvas came away from the rubber.
These flashbacks reminded me of how I stopped wearing them, not least because I hated Sublime (I misguidedly thought that, being (or trying to be) a 13-year-old-‘rocker-chick’ equaled believing deeply that ‘ska-sux‘).
It was a period of timid rebellion.
I told my Social Studies teacher that I couldn’t stand for the pledge of allegiance because it was against my religion.
Of course, I didn’t know what I was talking about, but neither did Mr. Kovacs so he let me sit it out every morning for the rest of the semester.
I grew out of that phase but the next thought-ricochet was from 2003.
I took my little sister to the movies at City Center here in Doha.
She was wearing those thick uncomfortable tights all Gulfie mothers put on their girls, a jean skirt and a t-shirt with an American flag on it.
I had to drag her through the mall, tripping over my abaya as she pulled back behind me, one little hand in mine and the other arm curled up across her chest to cover the flag.
She was only four years old.
How deep the shame and discomfort went/goes, how disillusioned the world was/is, how far the American flag has come since being chopped up into a certain famous shirt at the 1969 March on Washington.
Abbie Hoffman’s outfit aside, America-as-Apparel worn proudly or ironically or accidentally or unwillingly strikes a chord with me.
Watching those closing minutes of Gimme Shelter was like watching a snuff film depicting the horrific death of 1969, drowned in that dark bodily sea of exhaustion and acid that stretched over the Altemont Speedway.
In the last few moments the crowd stumbles away through darkness under a single light left hanging from a scaffold.
The lyrics to “Gimme Shelter” begin studding the bottom of the frame.
Then the film flashes to the beginning again: the 300,000 re approach the stage over rolling hills. One of them wears a blanket with the American flag sewn on the inside.
This time there is shame in what was once a beautiful idea.