25 February 2010
Undisputed: Why "Fortunate Son" is the Perfect Song Choice at the End of Die Hard 4
This is probably a random post today. Now, it's pretty clear that I watch movies way too much, whenever I'm driving around or otherwise listening to music somewhere, songs often remind me of different films. Thus, in the car today, the Cleerance Clearwater Revival song, "Fortunate Son" started playing on the radio. I immediately felt like I had just watched Live Free or Die Hard (2007), as the song features during the end credits. From here I started with the common assumption that the song is horrendously misinterpreted and in no place belongs at the end of a patriotic movie like Live Free or Die Hard.
As I started tuning into the lyrics, however, my attitude started to change. Here, take a listen:
For some history of the song, you can check out this very accurate and substantiated database, or just read on: Featured on CCR's Willy and the Poor Boys album, dropped November 2nd, 1969, the song protests the Vietnam War. It takes the perspective a bitter draftee resentful of his station in fighting a war he doesn't believe in while the sons of the conflict's architects skip out. It's also a great bit of 60s Rock.
So, the first impression you get from Live Free or Die Hard is that it's a really American movie. The entire franchise is. Perennially hungover cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) is the original blue collar action hero. He's brash, aggressive and impatient - immaculate American. The first impression of "Fortunate Son" is that it's an un-patriotic song. It's anti-war, anti-imperialist and anti-spoils. This is a conservative criticism I hear a lot against anti-war liberals. Anti-war is not anti-patriotism. In fact, most anti-war protesters are the most patriotic cats out there, wishing both not to sully this nation's international reputation as well as exercising the freedom the troops fight for. Now that we've got that clarification out of the way, let's take a closer look at what's going on in Die Hard.
McClane is a solider. The war he's fighting is against a faceless enemy that could pop up anywhere in any disguise (Tim Olyphant as this supreme Hacker-villain dude). It's not terribly unlike Viet Cong that could pop up anywhere and attack with little warning or pretension. This might be stretching, but the situation of McClane and the average Vietnam Private are not dissimilar. McClane also fights because no one else will. It's up to him because he's not a fortunate son. He has no excuse or power to get out of his duty. He growns at his initial mission he receives from his chief, but cannot escape his draft.
He doesn't believe in what he's doing necessarily, nor does he understand or want to fight the war, but he does with honour. This is the key to "Fortunate Son." It's a song of pride ultimately. It complains about not being a privileged individual yet at the same time it doesn't express an interest in converting. Its their badge. If they were a fortunate son, there would be little connection to that common dude out there identifying with the resentment of fighting a dumbass war. Likewise, McClane can't get out of his shit, but if he ever did, he wouldn't be that McClane we love. McClane's always a character who may hate and curse his orders but always follows through with them. The CCR is generally the same way. It's cheeky in its teasing of the upper class and presents the draftees a private club of misfortunedblue collar youth.
There's a few other good reasons unrelated to the song's content. For one, McClane, given his age and demograhic, as well as the time of the song's peak popularity, undoubtedly would have liked the song and listened to it as a young man very close to draft age. Also I know this for a fact because he states it himself while listening to the song ealier in the car with Justin Long. The playing of this earlier diegetic music serves to highlight some generational contrast, which is also pivotal to establishing Bruce Willis as an action hero where age is indeed a factor (one of the few recent "old-man" franchises to do this well). The song's successful playing in full at the films' end symbolizes McClane's renewed relevance and the triumph of hardassery and old fashion-ism over an ungrateful and technologically advanced yet hollow generation.
Can't think of a better song to end this flick with, baby.