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.)