Independence Day

When you write a song that becomes as iconic as “Independence Day”, it takes on a life of its own, which can feel very different from the life you intended for it. None of what happened to that song, and to me as a result of it, was in any way predictable. 25 years and two surreal encounters with Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin later, it really hasn’t felt much like my song in awhile. I haven’t played it live for at least two years, and before that only occasionally. When I did play it, I played it like a slow, sad piano ballad, not a heart-pumping anthem. And to be honest, I haven’t really wanted to play it for years. I wanted to retire it, not because I was ashamed or tired of it, but because it felt like something that wasn’t wholly mine anymore.

When your song is assigned an entire set of cultural values based on a false premise (it was never a song about America, it was always a song about a woman who was trying to save her own life and that of her child) it starts to feel tainted. It feels like words have been put in your mouth that you never said. I always said I was proud to have written the song (and I am) but the truth is I wanted to distance myself from it. And it took Zach Shultz to show me why. His essay on “Independence Day” brought me back full circle to the reason I wrote it. It made me proud. It made me feel like “Independence Day” was mine again.

The thought that my song would move a gay man in his 30s living in New York City to write,

“Today I choose to revel in the message of Martina McBride’s song, to recognize the political intent of Gretchen Peters, and to reclaim “Independence Day” as a call to independence from patriarchy, from a culture that would tell a woman, or any other person for that matter, to stand by an abusive partner at all costs. I choose to celebrate Independence Day as a day to freely criticize the policies of my country as it tears children away from their parents and locks them in cages; I celebrate Independence Day for the strong women who have escaped the oppressive strictures of unhealthy marriages and are choosing better lives; I celebrate the crowds of protesters who resisted the fascism of the current administration in a march across the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend; I celebrate the courage of the #MeToo movement and the overdue cultural reckoning it is bringing; I celebrate the independence to wake up every day and be our authentic selves.”

gives me a profound sense of wonder – wonder that something I wrote sitting on my bedroom floor in Nashville when Zach Shultz was a toddler has that kind of supernatural reach. Though many people have tried to twist it to suit their own motives, this particular song is stronger and more resilient than anyone, myself included, knew.

Songs are miraculous that way. They persist, they take on layers of meaning over the years, and sometimes they shed them, too. The people who love them keep them alive, they take courage and hope and inspiration from them, and the songs, if they are worthy, stand up to almost anything. I’m so grateful to Zach for writing this piece. I’m going to start playing my song again. Listen to the words.


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  1. Damn right! Always play that song and play it loud and proud! It has always been yours! Thiis gave me chills! Thank you both!

  2. We totally got the lyrics as you had meant them Liz and When CMT Europe showed the video there was no doubt. Liz and Jim

  3. Love the song but the problem is in the title & the people who have tried to use the song for Political gain. Its inspiring & uplifts me to fight for my own injustices in life, but i despise those who take it out of context. It takes away the enjoyment slightly but in the end you keep taking the royalties Gretchen because if you’ve got the talent to produce something so good then let ” the guilty pay” for abusing the song .

  4. I have always felt that song was about me and my 3 children and the man that made
    our house a living hell for 10 yrs. We finally got far away but the scars remain. He died this spring and hopefully the real healing will begin now. May Gretchen be blessed for hearing our prayers and pain.

  5. This makes me happy.
    I am deeply moved every time this song comes along on the Essential CD. It is so very important.

  6. That’s wonderful Gretchen! So nice to know the true, deepest meaning of your song has survived and re-emerged!!!

  7. I love this song Gretchen heard it first while holidaying in USA in on a country music channel. I didn’t know it had be written by you. I had read the lyrics right though. Please play it when you come to Belfast So looking forward to your show.

  8. I suspect that your feelings around this song maybe similar to those Bruce Springsteen felt at the appropriation of Born in the USA.

    Again an angry song about an individuals harsh life experience; again a song that many have not truely listened to and mistaken for some sort of nationalistic jingoism.

    All I can say is an artist or crafts person should never feel guilt at the misuse of something created in good spirit. A hammer can be made to build shelter for people but it can also be made to break the very same shelter. It does not devalue the hammer it only underlines the spirit and character the user.

    Vivid songwriting getting a story across to the listener in a way that they can empathise with the protagonist – it ticks all those boxes

  9. Play the song. Play the song as you intend in the moment. It’s a necessary portrait. May the paint never fully dry.

  10. August 14, 1996. That is my independence day. I celebrate it every year. I thank God every day for the courage to leave that day. I thank you for the song lyrics that I listened to every day as I played that song on a small, Missouri radio station. I knew I had to leave,somehow, someway, for myself and for my child. Please continue to perform that song. It means so much, especially to me and any other woman who has her own Independence Day.

  11. No doubt Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin also think On A Bus To St. Cloud is about getting excited about going on holiday….Stunningly beautiful yet heartbreaking song by the way.

    If you ever get to read this Gretchen (I feel I can be a little informal from listening to your music over the years lol) I’ll see you in London next year, even if you won’t really know it anyway.

    For that matter I’ll see you then anyway, regardless as to whether you read this or not. 🙂

  12. Dear Gretchen

    Hello, I’m Michael Holloway from South Australia, I’m a huge fan of your music and I hope you remember me. I also know how passionate you are about social progressiveness and causes. I hope it’s alright to post here but I knew no other way to contact you, as I’m no longer on social media.

    I recently joined a new community called Create Change, which has a
    mission to fight bullying, cyber bullying, and battling racism,
    sexism, homophobia, and other travesties of this world. I am no longer
    on Facebook, Twitter, or other forms of social media because of this
    exact same issue, so I am hoping to spread the message via email if I

    Although I’m not an official team leader, I represent the fan
    community of this organisation and am devoted to help in any way I
    can. Actress/singer Chyler Leigh who plays Alex Danvers in “Supergirl”
    is the co-founder and team leader, along with Nathan West and Angelo
    Lagdameo. Here is their mission statement.

    *Everyday, everyday-people are rising above the confines of their own
    individualistic concerns, for the greater concerns of all humanity.
    These civil activists/business leaders, students and the like make a
    positive difference by using their talents to find solutions for the
    problems plaguing their own communities and the world at large.

    The Modern Citizen section, is all about sharing these heroic stories
    and recognizing these individuals for their commitment to living
    beyond self and making the world a better place.*

    I was wondering if you would consider either joining the movement, or
    helping to promote us by spreading the good word.

    Sincerely, Michael

  13. A truly wonderful song, a similarly wonderful piece by Zach Schultz, and yet another bit of writing from Gretchen Peters. Songs and music have such power that the genuinely great ones have an enduring influence, often well beyond the original intent, however genius it was. Such a song is Independence Day, as is Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and is Tom Russell’s Guadalupe. “Let Freedom Ring…”

  14. Independence Day is a worthy song to be proud of, and I look forward to seeing Gretchen sing it, proudly and defiantly, when she visits Bristol later this month.

  15. Oh Gretchen, Independence Day will ALWAYS be YOUR song. I was also initially wrong-footed by those two words (Just like with Born in the USA), until I actually LISTENED! Then it hit me like a sledgehammer. Is it our stupidly busy lives that leave us unable to listen properly anymore – always some other “stuff” whizzing around inside our heads?! We multi-task so much that we do not know when to stop it!

    In any case, I’ve had the privilege of seeing you sing this lovely and emotional song here in England, and whether it is live or from a recording, it forever makes me want to cry (every time!!) – isn’t it magical that music can do that to us? I hope it means I’m still alive in the most important of ways.

    You own that song and no one can change its meaning – keep on playing it – though these days it has to fight for a place on the set-list with an awful lot of other very special songs too (isn’t that wonderful though?!)

  16. Back in the 90s, I didn’t listen to very much country music like I do today. I had heard your song, Independence Day, but didn’t really know the lyrics. When I really heard it for the first time, it was during a Memorial Day parade and celebration in 2000 where my daughter was marching with her high school band. One of her classmates sang this song (very well I may add) and although I didn’t recognize the significance (or maybe irony is the better word) at the time, I am realizing it now. You see, my daughter graduated from Dansville High School, in Dansville, MI. I was in the middle of the small town while this song was being performed…just a couple of blocks away from the still vacant lot where the Hughes family house used to sit. For those of you who are not familiar with the story, in March of 1977, Francine Hughes set her house on fire killing her abusive husband. She fled with her children and although she immediately turned herself in and spent 9 months behind bars, she was ultimately acquitted of all charges and went on to live a full life of independence.

  17. Well, speaking of ” Oldies but Goodies,” when are you going to cut a version of “Southern Gentleman,” that you used to sing at JJ McCabes in Boulder? It was a great tune….

  18. For what it’s worth, I’ve always understood it to be about what you intended it to be. I would gladly watch the slow version if I could find it!

  19. Remember Reagan trying to hijack Born in the USA ? Bruce’s response: if somebody doesn’t understand your song …… just keep singing your song. My wife and I saw you, oh it must be at least 20 years ago, in Sheffield, England and you played Independence Day (encore I think) and we got it straight away. We had a fantastic evening and won’t ever forget it. Thanks Gretchen, keep safe

  20. I was just reading Springsteen’s memoir where he talks about having the same sort of trouble with Born in the USA — people thinking it’s a patriotic anthem when it’s something quite different.

  21. Americans in general don’t listen to the lyrics but respond to the beat instead. It is a shame because there are great stories in country songs. That explains why Hannity and Palin used Independence Day without knowing what it was about.

  22. Gretchen,
    Thank you for sharing this story and sharing your struggles. I can’t imagine how mad I would be if one of those hate mongers tried to hijack one of my songs and use it for their hate-filled purpose.
    We all know songs have a soul and a life and path of their own. I hope yours lives through this hateful time and continues to inspire millions.
    You are an inspiration to me!

  23. I got it the first time I heard it, I grew up in a violent environment, keep up the GREAT work! Bless you!

  24. “Independence Day” is a great song, which was hijacked by people too lazy to listen to the words, in the same way that Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” was misappropriated. “Independence Day” remains in my top three of your songs and I’m so pleased that you are taking back possession of this important song. I look forward to hearing you play it once more.

  25. My sister Patty cranked up the speakers and blasted it from the wraparound deck on her mountaintop cabin near Berkeley Springs at 9 p.m. this Independence Day for all in earshot to hear. It was an important message for this dark time.

  26. To be honest, I had only heard Martina McBride‘s version of the song. Just listened to your acoustic version. I’ve always gotten the song too; it’s powerful!

  27. This is a very powerful song. The lyrics make its meaning quite clear. Perhaps you have seen a movie starring David Keith and featuring Dianne Wiest as an abused wife (her husband was played by Cliff de Young)? Near the end of the film, Wiest seals the house and blows out the pilot lights on the stove. Husband comes home, smells gas, starts for wife…who calmly lights a match. Need I say more?

  28. In the Martina McBride official video it looks like the woman kills herself in the fire, the lyrics suggest that also as the kid went to the county home? Is that what you meant as a writer as I realise I may be misunderstanding it. Powerful and elegant crafted song in any case raising an important issue thank you (And as a social worker I know people take that way out when life is unbearable for e number of reasons including caring).

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