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Guess what? 'American Woman' isn't an insult

Guess what? 'American Woman' isn't an insult

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WHERE: The Patriot Center at George Mason

WHEN: Saturday night at 7:30

HOW MUCH: $55, $37.50, $25; price includes parking. Call Ticketmaster Phonecharge at 703/573-SEAT or 202/432-SEAT. Tickets may also be purchased online at

I don't need your war machines

I don't need your ghetto scenes

Colored lights can hypnotize

Sparkle someone else's eyes

--"American Woman," by the Guess Who

It's ironic, but the Canadian band best known for the 1969 anti-Vietnam War anthem "American Woman" seems to be becoming a rallying point for America's war against terrorism.

During the Vietnam War, when the band was invited to play the Nixon White House for Prince Charles, the first lady requested that "American Woman" be dropped from the set list.

Last Friday, when the Guess Who played a concert in Boston, band members nervously talked about not playing the song--their only No. 1 hit on the U.S. charts--fearing a negative reaction at this hypersensitive time.

But the group, which plays the Patriot Center Saturday, ultimately decided to play "American Woman" because that's what people came to hear.

The song became a huge hit again not long ago when Lenny Kravitz did a cover for the Austin Powers film "The Spy Who Shagged Me."

Still, when lead singer Burton Cummings launched into the song Friday, he was anxious about how it would be received.

He needn't have feared: Crowds took it as a patriotic anthem.

In Boston, then in Hartford, Conn., people cried. They climbed on their seats, dressed in American flag apparel, waved flags, danced and sang along.

"The funny thing is that the crowds are eating it up, even though I'm singing 'American woman, stay away from me I don't need your war machine.'

"I've been very surprised," Cummings said.

"American Woman" is far from the group's only hit. Others include "These Eyes," which has been played on radio an incredible 3 million times, "Undun," "Share the Land," "No Time," "No Sugar Tonight," and "Clap for the Wolfman."

In a separate phone interview Tuesday, Guess Who guitarist Randy Bachman said the original meaning of "American Woman" no longer matters.

"People hear it as more of a celebration," he said.

And it has captured the imagination of teen-age fans intrigued when they discovered dusty Guess Who albums after having their curiosity piqued by hearing Kravitz's cover. Band members are in their 50s, but fans on the tour are ranging from 14 to 60.

The crowds also whip themselves into a patriotic frenzy when the band plays "Taking Care of Business" and "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," hits Guess Who guitarist Randy Bachman wrote for his band Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

"It's really unbelievable," Bachman said.

None of this should come as a real surprise to the band members. "American Woman" and "Taking Care of Business" were anthems for U.S. soldiers during the Gulf War.

And now "Taking Care of Business" seems almost certain to be heard blaring at American encampments and on U.S. ships in coming months as our armed forces root out terrorists.

The band was in Times Square when the attack took place on the World Trade Center.

Bachman stood shoulder to shoulder with New Yorkers and watched on Times Square's jumbo television screen as buildings crumbled about 30 blocks away.

"You could see the horror and disbelief in people's faces," Bachman said.

"It's a very strange time," Cummings said. He went out into Times Square Tuesday night, and there was no one else in sight. "It gave me the creeps," he said.

Cummings said the song "American Woman" was born of a random thought during a jam on a stage outside a Toronto curling rink 31 years ago.

The band had just finished a tour of big U.S. cities. And as Cummings looked out on Canadian girls in the crowd, it occurred to him that girls from his country seemed more wholesome than U.S. girls.

So he spontaneously sang, "American woman, stay away from me "

"It was never really meant to be political," Cummings insisted. "It just came out that way."

"I had just made an observation that the girls in the states seemed to grow up faster, wore more makeup at an earlier age and were probably looser sexually than Canadian girls," he said.

"But people thought I was talking about the Statue of Liberty."

Bachman said the politics came in later. When the time came to turn the jam into a cut on an album, he recalled, Cummings scribbled out lyrics with a political message because of the Vietnam War.

"No one sat down and wrote it to be like 'Eve of Destruction' or a Bob Dylan anti-war song," Bachman said. "It was just that we had toured the states in the late '60s and saw the whole atmosphere turning against the Vietnam War.

"We would go into a town and there would be no young men our age," Bachman said. "They had all been drafted. It would be all girls at out concerts."

But, he said, the band was far from ideological. It was as much an accident as anything.

"It just happened to be a phonetic thing he yelled out," Bachman said about the Toronto jam. "None of us knew what it meant. Later he put in stuff that meant something to us--'the colored lights can hypnotize' was about Broadway. And we'd never seen a ghetto growing up in Winnipeg. The first we'd seen were in Georgia and Alabama. The poor part of the town we lived in was nothing like these shacks."

Still, he said, people shouldn't read too much into any song.

"A lot of people think it's like, 'I hate blondes.' Other people see it as the Statue of Liberty--'the war machine.' "

"We didn't think too much about it at the time," Bachman said. "Like what John Lennon said: 'Things rhymed and we put them in.' You want something that rhymes 1 and 3 and 2 and 4. Later on they take on more of a significance, a meaning."

In any case, Burton said he's never shared any of the anti-American sentiment he's encountered at times in touring the world.

"There has been this anti-American feeling for a long time," he said. "And I think it's based in envy and jealousy and a little bit of fear of the unbelievable military might America has."

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