And I have a dream of a New American Language
One with a little bit more Spanish
I have a dream of a new pop music
That tells the truth, with a good beat and some nice harmonies
I have a dream

Dan Bern/Bernstein, "New American Language", New American Language

New American Language is Dan Bern/Bernstein's long-awaited 2001 album, released October 9, 2001. My partner got an autographed copy (along with Bernstein's new book, Merton the Hawk and Other Stories) a few days before then, because he ordered and paid for them more than a year ahead of time, back before Bernstein had a record company to release them. But I digress. The point of this writeup/review, which is followed by the complete lyrics to the album's title song (Track 2), is that New American Language (like Merton the Hawk, which should get its own writeup) was well worth the wait.

Although New American Language was officially released as a Dan Bern album, the album liner notes list the artists performing on it as "Bernstein and the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy", which I thought was good for a laugh. Bernstein, of course, wrote and sang all the songs on the album, which he accompanied on guitar and harmonica. The Conspiracy include: producer Chuck Plotkin, who also worked on the then-eponymous Dan Bern album and some Bruce Springsteen projects; Paul Kuhn on cellocaster (which I guess is a combination cello and Stratocaster), violin, and vocals; Brian Schey (a.k.a. Slim Nickel) on bass, guitar, and vocals; Eben Grace ("Eby Brown") on guitar, pedal steel, and banjo; producer Colin "Spanky" Mahoney on drums & percussion; and producer Wil Masiak on a whole buttload of keyboard instruments, including Wurlitzer, Hammond, and Mellotron keyboards/synthesizrs, piano, accordogan (the bastard love child of the accordion and organ, I guess), guitar, percussion, clarinet, glockenspiel, vocals, and bass on "Sweetness". Bernstein painted and drew portraits of all his bandmates as part of the album liner notes art.

Track list for New American Language:

  1. Sweetness
  2. New American Language
  3. Alaska Highway
  4. God Said No
  5. Turning Over
  6. Black Tornado
  7. Albuquerque Lullaby
  8. Tape
  9. Honeydoo!
  10. Toledo
  11. Rice
  12. Thanksgiving Day Parade

I have nodeshelled all the song titles, but have only noded/will only be noding appropriately explicated lyrics to my favorites (of course, at the rate the album's growing on me, that may well be all of them). For instance, "Black Tornado" was a concert favorite of mine years before it was recorded, and "Rice" was a great opportunity to shout out to some of my favorite noders.

I said remember that conversation we had about love
I said well, I think that you were right
She said I don't remember sayin nothin about love
It must have been a fantasy of the moment
I have a dream
I have a dream

When I'm feeling particularly enamored of New American Language, it seems to me like the fragments of conversation described in the title track are a continuation of the discussion in "Estelle", which is probably my favorite Bern/stein song of all time. It's got the same basic themes: love, art, hints of a failed romance. As Bern/stein said in his All Things Considered interview with NPR's Linda Wertheimer shortly after the release of his then self-titled debut album, "They're all love songs, in a way." The up-tempo tracks "Sweetness" and "Honeydoo!" are straightforward "oh darling, why do you treat me wrong" love songs; the aforementioned "Rice" describes a more Platonic kind of love, bordering on worship.

Other highlights of New American Language include the catchily ominous "Tape", which has echoes of "Hannibal"'s references to race riots as well as the lines (emphasis added):

We bombed the hospital by mistake, too bad, war is hell
And then we bombed the embassy we thought was something else
We might get to see World War Three by Thanksgiving Day
But as long as the turkey's golden brown it's all gonna be ok

which had me crossing my fingers until the holiday had passed, and I was able to convince myself that U.S. military activities in Afghanistan were only a Third World War in terms of location, not scope.

Metacognizant informs me that the version of "New American Language" that serves as the album's title track (again, lyrics below, and quoted throughout this review) is short several verses she's heard performed live and found online, including:

I said, I read your poem, and you will find love
But it might not be that important
She said for that I will always hate you
She had the nicest ass I've ever seen

as well as a discussion of the pros and cons of driving (a recurring theme in the works of this touring folksinger, as well as many others) as opposed to joining a monastery (as Metacognizant so aptly summarized it: "In a monastery you can't listen to talk radio"), and a classic Bern/stein sports digression on replacing Steve Curr on the Chicago Bulls "and being the little white guy they let shoot the threes" (Metacognizant again). Other versions of "New American Language" also contain verses about Michaelangelo working overtime---an idea Bernstein returns to in the album's cataclysmic concluding track, "Thanksgiving Day Parade":

Michaelangelo finally came down
After four years on the ceiling
He said he'd lost his funding
And the paint had started peeling
And he told us how his patron
His Holiness the Pope
Was demanding productivity
With which our friend just couldn't cope
And he rode off on his skateboard
With his brushes and his blade
Muttering something about some food
And the Thanksgiving Day Parade

All in all, New American Language is an album I have yet to tire of listening to. I hesitate to call it Bernstein's best, but only because I can't help feeling that a greater masterpiece is yet to come. New American Language has me looking forward to it already, and is great listening in the meantime.

Full lyrics to the title track (reproduced by permission):

She said love, love, love is everything
I said ok, I guess, whatever
She said what does that mean
I said nothin, it's just good to have a backup plan
She said I guess that means you don't got love
I said maybe I love everyone
She said that's the same as lovin no one
I said ok, I guess, whatever

And I have a dream of a New American Language
One with a little bit more Spanish
I have a dream of a new pop music
That tells the truth, with a good beat and some nice harmonies
I have a dream

Tourist towns are a drag sometimes
But in non-tourist towns you can get beat up
Just for lookin a little different
I guess the thing to do is just stay at home
Yeah but sometimes I think the thing to do
Would be to get a place way out in Missouri
Put down as many months rent as you can part with
Tell everybody else you went to France

I said remember that conversation we had about love
I said well, I think that you were right
She said I don't remember sayin nothin about love
It must have been a fantasy of the moment
I have a dream
I have a dream

I dream of joining the Mafia
And whether people like me is unimportant
I dream of your clock radio
Waking you up with my songs
I have a dream of a New American Language
I dream of new beginnings
I dream of saturation bombing
I dream mostly about love

Dan Bern/Bernstein

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