350 Jersey Songs: ‘I Am a Patriot,’ Little Steven

Little Steven, I Am a Patriot

The cover of Little Steven’s 1984 album, “Voice of America.”

I reached No. 350 in the 350 Jersey Songs series in September 2015, but occasionally add a new “bonus” pick. Here’s another one.

In 1984, Steven Van Zandt left the E Street Band, in part so that he could focus on the more politically oriented music he was making as a solo artist.

One of his most enduring anthems is “I Am a Patriot,” from his 1984 Voice of America.: Its theme is that resisting and questioning leaders, and not blindly following them, is an act of patriotism. The songs’ narrator declares “We can’t turn our backs this time” and “I ain’t no democrat, and I ain’t no republican, I only know one party, and it is freedom.”

“I Am a Patriot” has been covered by Jackson Browne and Pearl Jam, and was featured on the 2004 compilation album, Songs and Artists That Inspired Fahrenheit 9/11. Little Steven — who rejoined the E Street Band in 1999 — and his Disciples of Soul band have included it regularly in the concerts they have performed last year, and this year.

Below is a performance of the song from 1984, from the German television show “Rockpalast,” after a transcription of the introductory speech Van Zandt gives for the song. His sentiments seem as timely now as they must have seemed, then. 

Some wild things going on these days. We got something going on in America. They call it new patriotism. But it don’t look like no new patriotism to me, it looks like blind nationalism. And that ain’t right, that ain’t what patriotism’s all about. It ain’t about accepting everything you hear on television and everything your government tells you. That ain’t being a good patriot. Being a good patriot means you question every motherfucker, everywhere, every time. Make sure your country stays your country.

And it don’t mean you stop being a member of the world community, either. And it sure ain’t about parties, you know: loyalty to the party instead of loyalty to the truth. But if we don’t like things, it’s up to us to change things, you know.

Politics ain’t nothing to be scared of. It’s just freedom, and human rights, and democracy. That’s all it’s about. That’s righteous politics.

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