On Aaron Lewis and “Am I The Only One”

I didn’t want to go here. Because ultimately when you have a politically charged song that’s a mixed bag and requires nuanced and complex thoughts to dissect accurately and objectively, it’s just going to be misunderstood by more people than not, as folks read what they want and infer the rest in black and white notions in a reality of grey, or they’re just sent off the deep end by some dog whistle.

But “Am I The Only One” by Aaron Lewis has gone from a surprise single to a cultural phenomenon topping charts where commentary and discussion now feels required, and frankly, it might be a little cowardly to remain mum. So despite the flame war that surely will ensue, here are some thoughtful and informed opinions that hopefully the adults in the room will find some value in, and hopefully the rest will leave it be if they can’t participate in a good faith discussion, though admittedly, this is probably wishful thinking.

The fundamental reason “Am I the Only One” is resonating so widely is because it’s tapping into an unfulfilled and voraciously hungry desire for counterpoints in popular American culture. In a very granular and passionate manner, Aaron Lewis captures this fomenting frustration among large swathes of Americans who feel they can’t share what are ultimately very mainstream opinions without fear of losing their careers and their place in polite society. Being unable to speak upon common truths creates a bottleneck of emotions, and if anything pushes individuals towards more extremist views and venues, feeding the bigotry and hatred that the stifling of certain speech purports to work to resolve.

Specifically, millions of Americans are tired of being told that despite its major flaws—of which there are many—the United States is a tyrannical nation that on the whole hasn’t done more good than harm both for its own citizens and for the world as a beacon for freedom and classically liberal values, as if people aren’t clawing to get here as opposed to so many other nations where people are trying to leave, while some in modern society have lost sight that many Americans have sacrificed in blood and treasure to make that dream of personal liberty a reality.

And when it all boils over, you not only get a song like “Am I The Only One,” you get the kind of resounding reception it has received. It also helps that as a song, “Am I The Only One” comes across as poignant and impassioned, with weight behind the words. Aaron Lewis utilizes the full range of his character-filled voice to turn in a career-defining performance in a rather naked arrangement reminiscent of the highly-regarded Staind song “Outside.” The frustration and pent-up anger inside Aaron is palpable, and the audience feels this fundamentally.

But if you feel a “but” coming on, you would be correct. The devil of this song is in the details. As successfully as the emotion of Aaron Lewis and his constituency is captured in this track—and as much as it hits the nail on the head in regards to tenor and timing—the lyrics of “Am I The Only One” are just littered with inconsistencies and some outright hypocrisy, rendering the song inert if not problematic as a persuasive work, or as anything more than just red meat slung towards a fan base, while it’s defeatist attitude makes it more of a lamentation than a true rallying cry for perspective and patriotism like many of these flag-waving anthems look to do.

Aaron Lewis sings about watching the threads of Old Glory coming undone, but then goes on to bemoan the toppling of statues, of which the majority happen to honor men who rose up against Old Glory in the name of the Confederacy. Of course that’s not all of them. Statues for Abraham Lincoln and other worthy patriots have been toppled or desecrated too, which is pure lunacy, while the complex legacies of figures such as Robert E. Lee who basically ended the Civil War with his surrender at Appomattox against the orders of civilian leadership go undiscussed. There’s a reason you see and hear about statues to General Lee, and few for Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

It’s not that most of the intent of Aaron Lewis here is not righteous. It’s that he lets his anger get the best of him, and bogs the song down with specific grievances on current events that likely won’t age well when generalities would have been more useful. In so many ways this song feels like a loser’s cry as opposed to an reaffirmation of the American ideal, selling us on why America is exceptional.

Perhaps the greatest sin of “Am I the Only One” is when Aaron Lewis besmirches the sanctity of music, and goes after Bruce Springsteen specifically. Sure, The Boss can be a pill when he gets up on a soapbox and acts like he’s smarter than all of us similar to so many other entertainers when broaching political subjects. What makes their voice and opinion count more than the rest of ours? But if you allow Springsteen’s pointed opinions to usurp your joy in listening to “Born to Run,” or Bruce’s album Nebraska, then you’re doing music fandom all wrong, and are limiting the fulfillment of your musical experience for totally unnecessary reasons. And I’ve got news for you: If you can’t stand Springsteen for his political views, then you better get ready to 86 about 80% of your music library.

Apparently what ticked off Aaron Lewis specifically was Springsteen saying if Trump won the Presidential election he would move to Australia. Sure, that’s an elitist attitude, and the wrong approach to take. If you don’t like what’s going on in the United States, it’s your duty as an American to stay here and fight it because most don’t have the capacity to flee to another country. But in “Am I The Only One,” Aaron Lewis delivers the line about America, “If you don’t like it there’s the fuckin’ door.” Well wasn’t that what Bruce Springsteen was promising to do if the outcome didn’t go his way?

I don’t like Bruce Springsteen getting political on our asses any more than I like Aaron Lewis doing it. Because it brings out the worst in people, and the stupid in people, and undermines one of music’s most sacred attributes, which is the sharing of perspectives and the bridging of differences as one of the last few institutions people of different backgrounds and ideologies can enjoy together, and use to learn from each other. Sure, there’s also a time to pin your ears back, raise a black flag, and spew venom. But sometimes, if not often, those moments can backfire by giving ammunition and a rallying cry to your adversaries.

Aaron Lewis doesn’t make a convincing argument here, he’s just being argumentative, and frankly, a bit whiny. And depending on what side you’re on, you’ll hear what you want, take from it what you will, and we’ll all retire to our respective corners, and the culture war that’s meant to distract us all from the fact that the affluent and elite are fleecing the rest of us will continue on since we’re so angry at each other over statues nobody cared enough clean the bird shit off until someone threatened to tear it down, and jingoistic country songs from former rock stars, we ignore the fact that the corporate and political plutocracy soldiers on, and the rich eat you.

Either you will absolutely love this song, or you will positively detest it in the bifurcated, split-screen culture we currently live in, and a song like this helps to reinforce. Because you better choose a side start lobbing grenades at the other one. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in the worst of scenarios, which is seeing this song for what it is: an passionate work capturing a human emotion that is probably worthy of the attention it is receiving, while also being fundamentally flawed in some of its reasoning. Saying something that objective will make you the enemy of both sides.

Ultimately, “Am I The Only One” has and likely will continue to do what every song sets out to do: have a grand impact, and be remembered. For better, or worse. Undoubtedly, it is having a moment.

© 2021 Saving Country Music
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