Iron And Wine's Sam Beam

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in honor of Independence Day in the United States, our favorite songs with the word “America” in their titles or lyrics.

All the best “American” songs have something in common, as far as I’m concerned: the writer’s disillusionment with the American Dream. That’s what Springsteen is singing about in “Born In The U.S.A.,” and that’s surely what Sam Beam is singing about in “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” my pick for this week’s theme. The Iron And Wine track (which, yes, was used in the Twilight movies) finds Beam pondering life, death, and aging, moving from a “quick wet boy” to a “fat house cat” after he cut his “long baby hair.” Once young and full of promise and wonder, the song’s protagonist—which could be Beam himself, but hopefully isn’t, considering “pissing on magazine photos” doesn’t sound all that swell—seems stuck, nursing a “sore blunt tongue” and searching for the “jealous, weeping” flightless bird. He’s surrounded by corruption, by poisonous rats, and by sadness, and while Twilight made the track seem all romantic, it’s actually about how bleak and harsh life can be sometimes. And, really, that’s the most American message of all.