Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Brigantes

To depart briefly from the themes of fun, (brilliant or otherwise) let us for a moment focus on something perhaps no less manic but certainly more violent and barbaric. It should be noted that in ancient times, this same area of Blackpool was inhabited by Celtic tribes known as Brigantes. They were fierce, sea-going warriors, known for building vitrified forts close by the seashore. Vitrification is a process whereby (usually red) sandstone is emplaced over the more accessible points of a castle and coated with a compound that when heated causes it to harden and bond with its neighboring stones to produce a remarkably slippery surface,--difficult to scale or mount a serious assault.

Descendants of these tribes are justifiably proud of this technology which often saved them from the predations of marauding Vikings (whose shoes were likely already a bit slippery from standing in fish-guts and puke). “ vitrify a fort, ancient man left little or nothing to chance. Having assessed the melting characteristics of the rock (with a test burn) and acquired additional more suitable facing rock if needed, the rampart was prepared by the application of surface stones, together with the application (paraphrasing) of a flux-like compound known to improve the adhesion and melting characteristics of the rock... the entire rampart was turned into an enormous kiln, by using clay to build a vented tunnel around and above it,... This allowed the heat to be amplified and directed toward the rampart, thus achieving the desired vitrification. ” This substance that was used to slag the stone corresponded and was descended in part from an ancient unfunny compound known as “Greek Fire” which (having little or nothing to do with the digestion of diner food) had the unique characteristic that it continued burning even when immersed in water. It was sometimes introduced by the fort-vitrifiers to achieve the very high temperatures required for melting the sandstone and also allow the introduction of water into the vitrifying process as an agent to control melting on the surfaces. 

It had been employed by the ancient Greek in naval battles, being formed into balls to be hurled by catapults at enemy ships, this having, aside from its hydroanaphilic qualities, a capacity to scare the living shit out of anyone. Because of this secondary capability, it continued to be particularly effective as a naval weapon long after the fall of Greece as a naval power; (as a sailor you really do not want to watch other sailors burning to death, whether they be friend or foe). Though its exact composition remains a mystery, its horrific effects are well-recorded by several respected sources and documented, (as have been those of its modern, equally unfunny, counterpart, napalm).

The point being, despite suffering the aforementioned effects of the omnipresent voluntary historical amnesia, to the Blackpuddlians we can safely ascribe that the arrival of a dozen or so somewhat confused Norwegian sailors did not in reality mark the beginning of Blackpool’s nautical heritage. In describing these early residents of the area, the modern word ‘brigand’ is usually substituted as a later derivation of the ancient Roman term "Brigantes,” which was the name the gave to the loose agglomeration of Celtic tribes who would sometimes harass the Roman forces in coastal areas of an otherwise then subject Britain.

The derivative word, "brigand," therefore eventually came to imply not only general lawlessness but also a certain shiftiness of character and the willingness, even eagerness, to utilize duplicity for pecuniary aims or civil advantages,--all while maintaining an appropriately nautical flair. The Brigantes, like their forts, were thus renowned for being somewhat slippery m___f__kers and were singularly adept at the hit-and-run raids inflicted on their less fort dependent colleagues,--for this purpose employing small coastwise crafts that later became known as Brigantines. The word “Brigantine” thus was eventually adopted into the common usage by the Royal Navy in the early 17th century as referring to coast-hugging, smaller vessels that in a pinch could change their markings and engage in privateering or even piracy should the opportunity present itself.
To trace the term yet further, (and hopefully we are not straying too far afield from our original topic of amusement parks), “A brigantine (the shortened expression is the modern term brig)” meant a small vessel equipped both for both sailing and rowing, ‘swifter and more easily maneuvered than larger ships and hence employable for purposes of piracy, espionage, reconnoitering, etc. and as such however (and this is a key point) attendant upon the presence of larger friendly ships nearby (paraphrased) for protection’. The meaning was later broadened to designate any small two-masted vessel with square rigging, having on the mainmast, a fore-and-aft mains’il. (A triangular type of sail has an advantage over square-rigged sail in being able to be better maneuvered and to allow for better sailing of the ship (sic) in general in shallower coastal waters where winds and currents are often uncertain.) “It did not take much to convert a square rigged brigantine from a merchant ship to a privateer, or vice versa and privateers have a long history in Atlantic waters and though they extended their activities away from the coastline they were still generally inclined to avoid pitched naval battles, relying instead on subterfuge and deception. Since the better prize was (a) merchant ship loaded with goods that could be easily sold or a vessel wounded in another engagement, limping home it was not usually until after one of these situations occurred that they would raise their true colors.” While the range of these vessels was extended through greed and opportunity, the original imputation of slipperiness still obtains and has remained integral to the definition even though the use has since been institutionalized.

Nautical entrepreneurship (as I euphemistically dubbed it) is a long and well-regarded tradition on the seas. American privateers, (just one example), were on the whole so successful at it that it was often difficult to keep a crew aboard the somewhat pathetic American Navy during the Revolutionary War as they generally preferred the more hazardous but definitely more rewarding work aboard the privateers. Washington himself was constantly obliged to attend to this matter, using the Quartermaster Department to dig up seamen until responsibility was transferred to the Marine Committee of the Congress but even then, nothing, not even the ten-dollar enlistment bonus, was sufficient to lure those with actual nautical skills who could easily garner a tidier sum throughout by remaining in private employ.

The point here being (sigh) that the true origins and heritage of Blackpool are not entirely lost in the mists of time and further, that in all likelihood the murderous Brigantes themselves eventually became (or almost all) good Christians, (practicing Catholics or Church of England) except for the Theosophists and Wiccans and as further evidence of this fact, there once was (and is still) existing sculpture ensconced high in the vaulted nave of the church of St. Michael the Archangel, at Kirklington, (not far from Blackpool) in North Yorkshire, a three-headed icon, the central one belonging certainly to Ogmios, one of the major ear-licking Druidic deities worshiped by the Brigantes.

There are precious few other extant in situ neo-Celtic period images to compare him with but we know Ogmios in particular generally represented the central figure in a sea-going mythology. He appeared generally (as occurs here at Kirklington) in a triptych, his extenuated tongue implanted luridly in the ear of one of the adjacent, (obviously lesser) deities and it is clear therefore that despite its standing today in a Christian church, this pagan god was the main subject of this particular sculpture that appears to us gazing down from the nave of St. Michaels. 

Not just the Brigantes but all of the early Celtic tribes; the Setantii, the Carvetii, were living around present day Blackpool, (whether or not they were busy vitrifying ramparts or hunting Elk or ear-licking like manic Chihuahuas at the time), and were worshiping a rather eclectic panoply of gods, mostly Druidic in origin, but some others derived or modeled after their Greco-Roman counterparts (these no doubt introduced by Romans who did not prevent but frowned on native forms of worship). It was consequently not all that unusual for some of these Celtic deities, over time, to take on the characteristics of their Roman counterparts (and vice versa) and aside from obsessive ear licking (or perhaps because of it) Ogmios was associated with eloquence and also strength and hence collated with the Greco/Roman god Hercules (who also was known to have exhibited the characteristic on occasion of being able to talk his way out of a scrape). (And should he not) Sometimes Ogmios was pictured with his tongue becoming a club, the club also being the preferred weapon of Hercules (the convincer).    

It is also possible that in the image in the church where he is depicted with what appears as his tongue inserted into lesser deity’s ear, it is not a tongue at all but rather the links of a golden chain by which their ears were linked to the tip of his tongue; implying the power of his speech chained mens’ minds with golden links (as he is also credited with having invented the runes or written form of the Druidic language and thus also became the god of marriage contracts which is probably why he was granted ear-licking status in the first place).

As for his association with amusement parks: it is also possible that having his tongue employed regularly in coaxing earwax out of lesser deity’s ears, that (aside from having a fluid vocabulary) he was also the god of throwing up, which perhaps explains his association with that other hyperdentitious deity whom we have called ‘Funny Face’ (after George Tilyou who first named him); and who presided over the entrance of that delirious cathedral of fun, Steeplechase, though how and why this name came to be employed is somewhat less clear (and perhaps should remain so). 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


I visited the Mark Twain 'Museum' in Virginia City (which is in Nevada, not Virginia) a few months back. It is housed in the former offices of the Territorial Enterprise and the major drawing card is Mark Twain's original desk that miraculously survived the fire of 1875 that destroyed the offices of the Territorial Enterprise, where Twain worked as a reporter, and much of the town in the waning months of the decade long mania surrounding the discovery of the Comstock lode. Supposedly, when he was not meandering around the countryside, he had worked in the basement, so I was told by the kindly, red-haired lady that charged me the five-dollar admission fee and so, his desk was miraculously spared the depredations of the general blaze that took the three floors above. That the desk had been found and recovered from the charred rubble of the building. This immediately sounded a little suspicious to me and but then again, certainly in harmony with Twain's own talent for manufacturing serendipitous and miraculous circumstances in pursuit of readership and liquidity. So, whether or not the desk was in fact his original desk or one that the proprietors of the Emporioum on the floor above that was hawking candy and other tourist kitsch had picked up at a yard sale, I happily took my tourist pictures and bought my postcards, content in the knowledge that it was, if not his actual desk, a close facsimile and I had the same warm feeling about the portable toilet, regarding which a similar claim was made courtesy of a placard saying 'Mark Twain's ass was here' (though we are not similarly heir to its contents) and I assume they were not talking about his donkey.

Later in this same trip, on the way to visit a friend, I stopped a diner in Nevada City (which is in California, not Nevada). The diner was owned and operated by a French woman Genevieve and her husband Tom and as I read the history of the establishment printed on the back of the menu, I learned that her husband was a former aerospace engineer who had retired here to what has become something of a mecca for the heirs to 'the beat poets', and haunt of such epic poets as Gary Snyder and apparently Tom Cruise to open this aromatic establishment known as the Classic Cafe. Well it so happened that her husband (whom I had not recognized immediately from the picture on the menu which was of a much younger man) was sitting right next to me. (I had mistaken him for a general issue retiree killing time at the local diner). I explained to him that I was on the way to visit a friend in Grass Valley and that I had come out west to research a novel I had already written called 'monoville'. I thought he would be pleased that someone had taken such a lively, if overdue, literary interest in what essentially is an overlooked and ignored parched segment of the the Western Sierras,-- well let's not go into that. Anyway, he in particular seemed vaguely unhappy at this news.
"You guys come out here trying to make a buck off of our history and our stories." he admonished me scowling.

Well, since a buck was about all I had made to date of 'his history" I just nodded, and added "Hopefully".
This is the conundrum of California life, the vast and iconic scope of the landscape, the people and the history and the peculiar proprietariness of those people when they feel they have been cut out of the profits. I would very much like to write my next book set in that diner. As Spock would say 'Fascinating'

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Grazing Mace

I am going to talk about race and racism now,-- for two reasons: firstly I think it finally may be possible to have an honest and serious discussion about race in America, and secondly it is raining, and I, a 'for all intents and purposes' white person in a 'for all intents and purposes' predominantly white society, (and not to diminish the importance and horror of recent events), find, that having nothing else to do, this is the only time I voluntarily give serious consideration to the subject of race (which is why I also think black people should give us back that is the month it is least likely to rain.).

Joking aside,--why has it been so extraordinarily difficult til now to have a serious and rational conversation on the topic of race. Words can be a bludgeon or they can be a scalpel. I would think therefore it has a lot to do with the fact that in this context, they have long been used mostly as bludgeons,-- all or most the words conscripted became immediately intensely and highly charged, and what is more, facilely capable of conveying different meanings to different people even in the same context in a way that is more conducive to conveying emotion than meaning. Take the word 'racist' most 'normal' people, on the surface it is unambiguously bad and to some extent has become a synonym for 'bad character', at least until they find by some definitions they themselves may be included under it. Stephen Colbert's dealt with this possible 'double edgedness' of the word by declaring. 'I do not see race!'  This is the big lie method of dealing with the problem,-- of course we all see (and hear) race, but as in all effective 'big lies' there is a convoluted kernel of truth. The big lie is a method of dealing with the convolutedness of real explanation by distraction. To look at that inconvenient kernel,-- what defines, (for me at least) someone as a racist, is someone who sees race first.  It is for them the only defining and therefore, least subject to revision assumption they can make about a person. All other assumptions become either subordinate or non-existent to it. We hate the idea first and the person second. This is of course the most pernicious form of racism leading to stereotyping all all the other 'de-individualizing' and 'brutalizing' mindsets that characterized for example, Nazi Germany.  One group or set of people arrogates to themselves totally the idea of the 'individual'.

I say this is the definition of 'racism' because if we strip this idea of 'primacy of perception' from the meaning of the word then we strip the word of meaning and it is therefore 'by definition', its definition. However, we have a niggling feeling that this does not do full and ample justice to the 'double edged' nature of the term. For example,--employing this definition, one would have to admit, (since we are being honest here) that Affirmative Action was a racist policy,--Why? Simply because it was a social policy that considered race first and foremost. Well, that may be true and we may have to admit that Affirmative Action is racist, and this is a rather uncomfortable and inconvenient fact for those of us who promoted it or support it,-- but it also is a case of using fire to fight fire! It was a policy that was instituted and adopted to correct a grave and longstanding historical injustice and therefore, while it may be 'racist' in the definitional sense,--it was also just and beneficial. So, in this case, the complex and inconvenient truth is that 'racism' per-sae was used for a good end. That still does not make racism itself good--not by a long shot. (No wonder this subject has been so difficult to discuss!) but while racism itself may be evil, not all racist policies may necessarily be bad.  That is just the riddle we need to live with. All of which brings us to an even more uncomfortably complex idea,--that of 'institutional racism'.

While it is clear that peoples attitudes (for the most part--except for a hopefully diminishing number of crazies) have changed their mindsets in their daily interactions (no more Jim Crow), it is equally true that the racism that was embedded in our political, economic and legal institutions both in the South and the North is alive and well.  While this fact rolls off the tongue facilely and easily, what does this really mean and is something increasingly heard on talk shows in post-Obama America?  In practice it means that institutions used and still do provide justification and context and give encouragement and play to the dregs of racism that, while no longer approved by society in general, still lurk in the depths of our psyches.  In closed 'sub-societies', like law enforcement,--a different standard may de-facto prevail than in society at large and this double standard is then, more often than not for convenience sake overlooked. Unshakeable bonds of mutual benefit secure its continuance within the context of the legal system. It is self-perpetuating... Prosecutors depend on police, courts depend on prosecutors prisons depend on courts etc. a hand in glove relationship that facilitates swift justice but also (in the case of black individuals) often facilitates swift injustice--what is important is that there is nothing in it which requires a fundamental change of attitude from the other--it is a web of marriages of necessity,-- a complex web of inter-dependencies that no party is willing to tip in part, for fear of tipping the whole--in short, American justice functions on a sort of American version of the old European Aristocratic ideal of expediency in personal relations.

So, however, in the context of this discussion, even faced with the reality, we must consider this idea: is institutional racism a real thing?  Certainly its effects and outcomes are real and evident to anyone who care to look. (Most of us do not until something like Ferguson shows up,--or it starts raining). However if we can ascribe racism to an institution than why cannot we ascribe thought and opinion, and if institutions have thoughts and opinions than rationally speaking perhaps private institutions like corporations cannot be granted a lesser status and so we have been led down the slippery slope that led to the absurdity of a Citizens United.

So, to deny that institutional racism exists is an absurdity that flies in face of evident facts and to admit it exists within a legal context (which it itself defines) leads to yet another absurdity which is that of institutions having values and opinions that themselves need to be protected under the law. By admitting to the existence of institutional racism somehow this is a means for institutions to themselves achieve 'personhood so,--by definition,--their very existence depends upon its continued existence. This is not mere sophistry rather it is a false equality of the kind that any society generally uses to convince the most useful of citizens that they are valued when in fact though their contributions are valued, they themselves are not--in other words--in its most 'honest' form,--slavery. (And not to get all weepy about the founders'--something which they, in their wisdom foresaw as the most pernicious form of governmental arrogance)  So,--I am already mentally exhausted,--and we have not even scratched the surface or attempted to address the use of the 'n' word,-- or examined the fact that we finally have a commander-in-chief (again not to make light of recent events) who can almost carry a tune. But having pointed out the fact that words must first be 'unhijacked' if they are to serve any useful function in future conversations, I consider at least part of my part of the task done for now and so will leave it at that. 


Saturday, February 28, 2015

No Exit

I manage a page on facebook called 'facebook still sucks dot com' (which really nobody posts to except me); (and really, what has facebook done for me lately). It points out (somewhat gratuitously how I am feeling assailed and regularly nauseated by the misdirected endless stream of cardboard cutout political sentiment, the self-congratulatory vacation and dinner photos, the baseless snarkiness of the pseudo-intellectuals that inhabit the ad festooned pages of this virtual tête-à-tête,-- need I go on, (the cat photos),-- now, if you will, let me explain why I love facebook, and this particular realization came to me in one of the two places where all realizations come to me (either in the diner or in the shower),

--I was sitting eating this ham and egg sandwich (not in the shower) (quite a good ham and egg sandwich, in a booth facing the door, (actually in a state of semi-rapture because, I had just found out I could actually move the seat back a few inches further from the table--I may be a few pounds overweight) when a young man, relatively good-looking of about thirty five, with a scraggly/curly kind of beard and moustache of the kind you find in colder weather climes where shaving is a form of excessive self-congratulation,--anyway, he was flinging his arms and legs about randomly in different directions, as he entered the diner, in a manner that would have been alarming were it not immediately evident that he suffered from some kind of palsy that made these motions involuntary--anyway, I must tell you a little about myself at this point,--for some reason, whenever I see a person like this, someone afflicted in this manner, I invariably experience this intense upwelling of affection,--it is totally irrational and involuntary, I know,--the person in front of me could in fact be a serial-killer-rapist-grandmother-abuser-horse-sodomist but to me at least, they immediately take on the aspect of sainthood, and it is as if I am overpowered by what theologians have noted as the distinctive odor of sainthood, conveying as it were instantly that this person was the source of this upwelling of feeling and in other words really can do no wrong,

--now this is, as I mentioned, I am aware, totally irrational but, as I said, I really have no control over it,--so as the young man walks in and up the aisle toward me and the pasty, glum, semi-toothless, 280 bowler waitress standing at the counter greets him warmly, "Hello Wally".

Full stop--
That was when the realization hit me,--the reason I had experience this immediate emotional response had nothing to do with the qualities of this individual but was because some part of me had interpreted the wild limb waving as a kind of greeting, as if he were frantically trying to capture my attention (and perhaps only my attention),--,the situation in my warped consciousness had been transformed and it was not that he suffered a debilitating illness but rather that he was at that moment in fact, so overjoyed to see me that he had lost total control of his limbs--this is the simplest explanation but of course totally irrational, yet, I will not apologize becuase this is just the way I interpret these things,
Half stop
-- I have always been this way for as long as I can remember,--for years I remember walking down the street hoping to hear my name yelled out by some random stranger, hoping he or she was a long lost friend or brother or sister or lover, that is just the shape of my emotional architecture, I long for this abrupt and public connection with another person that will bathe me and them in the joy of mutual recognition,--and here it seems it was at last, in (of course) the unlikeliest of places,  when this young man walked into the diner so,

To get back to my original point, this is why I love facebook, it is it seems constantly waving its limbs uncontrollably in this palsied frenzy to grab my attention and mine alone,--the content or character behind the facade is irrelevant,--I just crave the mutual instant recognition it affords. This may be as shallow and irrational as posting cat pictures or last night's dinner, but I swear it is the truth. So, at the point where I find myself walking down the street or into a diner having lost control of my limbs, I only hope you, dear reader, are the one sitting there, waiting to receive this entirely
involuntary impersonal and somewhat abstract embrace.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

It has recently come to my attention that Jews are not as popular as they once were and that we (I say we for reasons of simplicity which will become apparent) are getting sensitive (some would say oversensitive) about this. How do you know this? one might reasonably ask.
Well, really its been little things,--not getting invited to the best parties, getting snickered at if we wander into the hardware section at Walmart, WWII. Things like that. In fact, apart from attending Fiddler on the Roof, most people prefer not to hear from or about Jews anymore at all.
How did this sad state of affairs come to pass you may ask? Well, apparently we got one bad write-up a couple of thousand years back and its been an emotional roller coaster ride ever since. (Critics!). Anyway, Not being a joiner, I decided it was high time for me to do something about this personally. To take some individual action.  You know,--take it to the streets! So, (being Jewish), I hired a publicity agency. A few weeks later they came back shaking their heads, saying,
'The real problem is that nobody can agree who is Jewish and who is not!'
'That is true.' I said. Not even the Jews can agree.' So I said,
'Well, I'm paying you guys, what can we do about this?'
'You need a motto', he bald guy with glasses says popping a piece of gum into his mouth.
'Something you all can subscribe to without reservation'
'Jews don't go anywhere without reservations' I say. When this does not get a laugh I continue...
'OK' I say. 'I agree, can't hurt. ' So three weeks later they come back smiling.
'We got it!' they say, (all beaming like they just floated the Costa Concordia).
'Something that all you fucking Jews can subscribe to and which paints you in a relatively positive light'.
'OK,' I say 'Show it to me, guys, I can't wait!'
So the other guy (not the bald gum chewer) sets up this easel (I'm thinking, who are you?! John Nagy). He takes what I guess is a piece of his mother's curtains, anyway a very fancy cloth that is draped over the piece of cardboard that he puts on the easel and then, very dramatically,
whips off that piece of cloth and there it was, --in Bodoni font--(Bold!).
. 'Jews,-- we don't jump off anything unless we have to!' 'That's pretty good.' I say, concealing my pleasure.
'That is Mon-nee!' I am thinking. So, if you happen to see this on a billboard, you should know that it is because one person took action, one person really can accomplish something. Wait,---

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Reenacting revising the revisionistas.

I just got back from Johnstown where they were reenacting the battle of Johnstown in the Revwar. If there is one thing you can say about reenactors you can not accuse them of being revisionistas. If there is one thing they value, it is authenticity. Which made the ride home on the NYS Thruway all the more delicious as it was dominated by a theme of revisionism which I will relate in three increasingly brief anecdotes...

(Part 1)
Kindergarten Revisionistas:
The Commonwealth Club program came on NPR radio and there was a feminist with a cartoonish voice addressing them  (ironically this occurred near Coxsackie) repeating the latest feminist trope which I have heard ad nauseum on NPR and Jon Stewart and various other venues, this being that the reason there are more men than women in executive positions in business goes back to kindergarten where overly aggressive, self-centered boys were told they had 'leadership skills' whereas overly aggressive, self-centered little girls were told they were being 'pushy', (which is a code word for being a 'bitch').  I don't know if this is true, (I don't remember either case occurring in kindergarten and unlike the speaker, I wouldn't want to malign my kindegarten teacher gratuitously) but I can tell you this,-- in my working life I have have plenty of experience with both,--and I have always had a term for overly-aggressive self-centered men, and it wasn't  'leaders', I generally called them 'pricks'.  As for the women, I have had no problem with them in the workplace except for the fact that all those bitches were trying to screw the guys with 'leadership skillz' instead of me.

(Part 2)
Quantum Superposition Revisionistas:
 All the rest areas on the Thruway now have been renamed  'Texting Stops'.  This causes me to question the intelligence of all those people who, during the first fifty years of the Thruway's existence, pulled over into these areas under the mistaken assumption that they were resting. In fact they were just behaving like morons when they pulled over and did nothing.  This so called 'resting' was nothing more than just waiting for someone to invent Smart phones. They were obviously lulled into thinking they were resting and so they could sit there stupidly and placidly while laboring under this mistaken assumption. This is probably similar to what will eventually occur with bathrooms which are now called 'rest rooms'. Nobody is really resting in them. They are just waiting around for someone to invent something better to do in them.  And everyone will probably feel really stupid when they find out what that thing is, that they have been waiting for.

(Part 3)
Revising the anti-revisionistas
After the Commonwealth Club gaveled to a close, someone happened to mention on the radio that the Irish have a saying, that 'you can't eat the scenery'. This should probably be revised to 'you can't eat the scenery, Unless you are a vegetarian'.

That is the end of my revisionist ride on the Thruway. I will tell the story of the battle of Johnstown at some later point.

Anyway, I sure I have managed to offend just about everyone with this post and all I can say is if you wait around for a little bit, there will be a revised version of it. In the meantime, I am resting.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

“Star Spangled Banner”

Francis Scott Key stumbled  upon the idea of inflicting the Star Spangled Banner on what was at that point, a less than musically attentive nation from aboard a ship in the harbor where he observed the British attack on Fort McHenry. This battle, occurring on Tuesday, September 13th, 1814 during the War of 1812 led to him being inspired, as he observed the American Flag, tattered but still flying proudly over the fort the following morning leading him to pen the  poem that was only later set to music (so maybe it wasn't his idea after all).

The melody he himself however eventually chose for it was from an old English song called “To Anacreon in Heaven”. Anacreon was a Greek poet noted for his paeans to wine and love. It is not known if he actually is in heaven or even if, being a Greek, he believed in heaven, however, the English believed him to be there and that is (presumably) good enough for me as they usually have the best information about regions to which the French have only limited access.

Only fragments of Anacreon’s original poetry remain. One of them goes like this:


      Men and maids at time of year
The ripe clusters jointly bear
To the press, but in when thrown,
They by men are trod alone,
Who in Bacchus’ praises join,
    Squeeze the grape, let out the wine:
    Oh with what delight they spy
      The new must when tunned work high!

      Which if old men freely take,
      Their grey heads and heels they shake;
      And a young man, if he find
      Some fair maid to sleep resigned      
      In the shade, he straight goes to her,
      Wakes and roundly ‘gins to woo her; etc.                                                                                                    
In case you hadn’t noticed, there is, it seems, a great deal of technical information regarding Greek winemaking (as well as the quasi-erotic insomnial stimulation) that can be gleaned from this seemingly bland pastoral ditty,--. From inspection of the first verso, it is immediately evident that it was not the custom apparently, to allow women to be involved directly in pressing of the grapes: “They by men are trod alone.”  While it is tempting to associate this with or attribute it to the fact that women may have been menstruating at the time and thus considered unclean and unfit for this kind of duty, historically speaking, that is in fact a mostly Jewish Talmudic idea and hence not one that likely permeated Greek wine culture and so, is most likely the wrong gloss on the stanza as far as the gender related subtext.

If one instead takes testimony found elsewhere, scenes portrayed on pottery and in literature and the like, the act of treading wine is carried out not only by men but by ithyphallic fauns or satyrs. So yet another motive arises.  The satyr or faun is a figure that the Greeks used to portray a kind of non-discriminating asexual libido. If you have ever trodden on grapes, you know that it is a very sensual experience, squishing the must beneath your toes and feeling the juice squirting out from between them. It is therefore very likely that at Greek wine crushing festivals, a great deal more than grapes were being squeezed: “When tunned work high”, (or so the poet would have you believe). Greek wine is well known to have additives. Usually they claim it is tree resin.  (Yeah, tree resin,-- that’s the ticket!)

It is not known if Francis Scott Key was under the influence, or sexually erect when he wrote the Star Spangled Banner but he was ‘tunned worked high’ and the chances are, having just recently been released into American custody from a British frigate, he may have been both. (No doubt a degree of libatious celebration would account for the rather obscure sourcing of the melody.) The song immediately became popular, though it was not until 1931 that it was officially adopted as the national anthem. The coining of the phrase itself, “Star Spangled Banner”, still remains something of a mystery to me which I will make a  cursory and half-hearted-attempt to unravel (no pun) despite the fact that whoever made it our national anthem was probably themselves ‘worked high’ at the time.
In parsing the words, “Star Spangled Banner”, the evolution of the “star” metaphor could easily have been derived from the very shape of Fort McHenry of which certainly Key was aware. The configuration of the fortifications was that of a star enclosed within a star and so the flag also at the time, was a field of stars within a star, within a star, a powerful and poetic image from which Key may have drawn his inspiration. As far as introducing the word “spangled”, I would hypothesize that perhaps Mr. Key (not altogether a bad name for a musician by the way) had made the short trip to the strip joints located just up Light Street prior to his capture by the British (I stand by this assertion though the Star Spangled Banner is very infrequently employed by strippers to accompany their routines). 

These obscure conditions under which certain phrases such as “Star Spangled Banner” thus may have evolved or been coined and thence adopted into the national consciousness, the reasons for which, (I as a would-be ‘historical author’ would prefer not to speculate on), nevertheless unreasonably tend to fascinate me.  Phrases that have been adopted generally in other common usages, even those ‘coined’ specifically for coins per sae can, in themselves, be, as it were, sometimes sanguinely amusing. For instance, it is not widely known that the motto;  “IN GOD WE TRUST” did not appear on U.S. currency and coins until April 22nd, 1864.  The earlier motto had been simply: “MIND YOUR BUSINESS”. (Neither of these two phrases are eminently singable, but when taken together might have served as a good synopsis of Thomas Merton’s philosophy.)