August 22, 2008
Written by Gretchen Peters
In 1993, Martina McBride chose to include a powerful song penned by Gretchen Peters on her second collection The Way That I Am, despite resistance from her record label. Even with their hesitance to discuss such difficult subject manner, McBride was determined to shed light on the hard truths of domestic violence. When selected as the fourth single from the album, the song, titled “Independence Day,” many radio stations were uncertain whether they wished to play the controversial anthem. Its story of a woman’s struggle against spousal abuse is powerful and purposeful in content, lending a realistic view of how such treatment can torment its victims.
From the narrative standpoint of the woman’s daughter, the song tells of an abusive husband and the destructive effect on his family. The daughter, eight years old and all too aware, recalls how she took a trip to the downtown fair to avoid the conflict and confrontation between her parents. Her father, a drinking, dangerous man inflicts damage on his wife, made very apparent by the “proof on her cheek” and the “worried and weak” look on her face as the innocent girl gets ready to leave the house. All the while, the chorus rings out as a cry for freedom for both a hopeless wife and a helpless daughter who suffer at the hands of a violent man.
The video was equally compelling and provided a disturbing visual to help tell the story. In its final frames, the house is up in flames and the daughter is in the arms of the policemen ready to take her to the county home. The outcome for her parents is much less clear. No resolution is found, but the ending on this “day of reckoning” seems rather dire regardless of interpretation.
What is so terrifying and troubling about both the song and the video is the seeming ambivalence of the bystanders. From the firemen who just “put out the flames and took down some names” to the folks who spread the rumors of abuse like the fire that destroyed the house, those indirectly involved appeared hesitant to confront such a devastating situation. All the more reason for the wounded wife to live out the vows made in the chorus to “make the guilty pay” and take matters into her own hands.
The risks involved with writing and recording “Independence Day” paid off. Although it only reached #12 on Billboard’s singles chart, the song reached a wide audience and received much critical acclaim. McBride, as a Horizon Award nominee, performed the song on the 1994 CMA awards show, and later that evening, accepted the award for Video of the Year (an honor shared with directors Deaton Flanigan). The next year, Gretchen Peters was awarded the Song of the Year trophy, becoming only the second woman to receive the award. Peters acknowledged those who had lived with domestic violence and praised McBride for the best ambassador imaginable for this groundbreaking single.
“Independence Day” was also nominated as Best Country Song at the 1994 Grammys and earned McBride her first nod in the Best Female Country Vocal Performance category. Its presence is still greatly felt and is a cornerstone of McBride’s career and a testament for truth and fearlessness in country songwriting. As Peters would later say, “I think Martina would agree that the most gratifying and most humbling thing is when women that have really lived this come up to you with tears in their eyes and say you got the story right.”
“Independence Day” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.