Big American Man


He left America in a rocket

On a mission to be triumphant
But when he landed he was stranded
On a planet ruled by our cousins
Who would not be convinced of his intelligence
They were blinded by their monkey religion
(And tradition, and superstition)
I guess in some ways it was a lot like home

His world was long-time gone
He was all alone
But before he was done
He rode off with a gun and a woman

He was a Big American Man

He was a righteous man, righteously sexy
He constructed cities, impressed kings and ladies
But he made enemies when he learned his identity
“Let my people go,” he said.
Yeah he led his people out of slavery
He led them to a mountain. He climbed up it
He came back down with the pillars of religion
(The Ten Commandments on granite tablets)
But what he saw was breaking the law!

He crossed the wilderness
And made women jealous
But after all that sand
Was the Promised Land

He was a Big American Man

Now he’s back in America leading the movement
If you shoot rockets he’s your agent
Because they want to take your guns, them pinko, city-slickin’ vegetarians
He’s the defender of the rifle religion
(He’s on a mission for the militias)
Don’t worry boys you can keep all your toys

Your firearms
Your movie stars
He was a movie star
What a movie star!

He was a Big American Man


Acoustic guitar & lead vocal: David George
Electric guitar, bass & vocals: Steve Yutzy-Burke
Drums: Scott French
Produced by Steve Yutzy-Burkey assisted by Alec Meltzer

Listen to "Big American Man"

Reflections on Big American Man

During ninth and tenth grade at Lancaster Mennonite High School in Pennsylvania, many of my closest friends started becoming musicians. The metamorphosis typically kicked off with the acquisition of a guitar. Often—given that genuine skill with the instrument came years later—just as important in adopting the new identity was proclaiming the fact that you were a musician, being seen playing (or merely playing with) a guitar, forming bands, talking about music.

By eleventh and twelfth grade, friends possessed various degrees of guitar-playing ability. The most proficient high-school guitarists typically looked the part as well (as did the drummers, singers and other creatives that completed the scene). I never entirely worked out the chicken-and-egg relationship between music-playing and dressing to type. Whatever the case, our collective effect got us routinely heckled as “faggots” by the farm-boy clique. The principal and teachers knew this went on but the farm boys were the right kind of Americans (in this particular case, Mennonite Americans) to be allowed to assert their will over smaller, less manly students.

My true ambition from the time my friends were first setting down the path of learning instruments and becoming musicians was to do the same. There were several problems. First, hard-wired into my personality was a drive to do my own thing. “I’ll do what I want,” was a saying my friends knew me by, almost like a nickname. In my view, I couldn’t afford to be seen tinkering with guitars like everyone else. I wasn’t a crowd-follower; I was a leader.

My self-fancied independence and penchant for leadership was in part stubbornness, part ambition. But it was mainly a crutch to deal with my shyness and social anxiety. Whether I was writing, acting, performing, or even playing sports, performing and expressing myself in front of others was a frightening endeavor to me. I knew that even if I learned guitar, it would be a dead end. I’d never have the nerve to play it in front of others, in front of crowds, in front of girls. And choosing which songs to learn and play would be way too revealing. There was no way I could ever bare my thoughts or emotions and perform a song I had written.

But I did really want to play. During my senior year of high school, I bought a guitar and began learning how to play it. It was a secret endeavor I kept from everyone. I never did become the guitar god that some of my closest friends did, but I would spend hours a week playing the instrument and writing songs.

By my junior and senior year of college at Eastern Mennonite University, I got comfortable enough to start performing a bit. I performed in coffee houses and open mics on and off campus, but I was still too stubborn to learn other people’s songs, and too shy to perform most of my own. The songs I did muster up the courage to perform in public almost invariably had a humorous or ironic bent. My most personal and intimate material never saw the light of day, and was only ever heard by the walls of my bedrooms.

While at Eastern Mennonite, my friend Keith would do a shtick in late-night dorm room banter referring to a “big American man.” It was something he had heard in a movie, I think—just one of a million random things that college guys might talk about late at night.

But out of these million forgettable bits of banter, the notion of the big American man stuck with me. Could I be the Big American Man? I was shy. I was a Mennonite. I wasn’t physically big. My dad was from the Middle East. Even if I hit the gym and somehow acquired overflowing self-confidence, I suspected I’d never be the combination of big, manly, and American to qualify for the role. High school had taught me I wasn’t even an adequately big Mennonite man.

Alone with my guitar, I kept returning to the words: Big American Man. For a time, it was just there, a snippet, one of many. Eventually it became a chorus, along with many others I had waiting for inspiration to fill in the verses and meaning.

In the months after I graduated from college in 1998, I spend most of my evenings with a group of friends who had recently graduated from Goshen College. We watched movies. Two films in particular made an impact on me. The first was Planet of the Apes. The second was The Ten Commandments. Both movies starred Charlton Heston. I had seen Heston in films and on TV here and there (particularly in Soylent Green and Ben-Hur, movies I didn’t remember very well). As president of the National Rifle Association at the time, Heston was a regular in the news and on TV.

Heston was the quintessential Big American Man, an immutable example of American masculinity. Even when he was literally the last man on the planet (in Planet Of The Apes), he still rode off at the end of the film with a gun and a woman.

In The Ten Commandments, set thousands of years before America would come to exist, he played Moses with essentially the same big, manly American man-ness that he brought to every character. Heston’s Moses was so sexy, so confident, so … American. The performance was as awesome as it was absurd.

And while I was studying the young Heston in old movies, the real-life, contemporary Heston was still the picture of big American manliness, talking about guns and America. Even before he made his famous gun-supporting “cold, dead hands” declaration in 2000 (the same year he put out a book with the fitting title, To Be a Man), I had identified him as my subject. My Big American Man hook had found its muse.

In 2003, I recorded the song along with a few other tracks with the help of a few musician friends. Shortly afterwards, I went to graduate business school for two years. Going back to school provided me with a setting and a schedule to play in campus open mics and other venues. But since then, my life as the musician I never really quite was has again taken a back seat. I now pick up a guitar maybe a few times a year. “Big American Man” will likely remain my biggest “hit” as a record and a crowd-pleaser.

I performed the song most recently as an impromptu duet with my new wife in the later hours of our wedding reception. Commanding the attention of the remaining guests in the room—with my woman by my side, and a guitar in my hand—might have been the biggest American man moment of my life.

About the Author

David George

Like most of his forebears who immigrated to America, including the lone non-Amish one, his Middle East-born father, David George has spent most of his life in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He has left Lancaster in order to attend Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he graduated with a B.A. in mathematics and to attend the Yale School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut, where he earned an M.B.A. After receiving his degrees, life took him to London, England, where he worked for seven years. Currently, he works at the headquarters of a national retailer based in the Washington, D.C., area, where he lives with his wife and son. He also serves in the role of business manager for musician Jessica Smucker. When in the Lancaster area, he often attends Landisville Mennonite Church, where he is a member.