Monday, March 30, 2009

A Song My Father Taught Me

I was talking on the phone with my daughter Anne, and she asked about a song "Mom taught us," and then started on the "Drink, drink, drink, drink."

"I taught you that one, I said, mentioning I had learned it from my own father. Anne had talked with someone of Dutch heritage, who had mentioned prejudices against the Dutch. She immediately thought of the song. It turns out the the song's title is "The Goddamned Dutch." Wikipedia says, "it first appeared in the book Gentleman About Town, Immortalia in 1927," but I suspect the song is much older, probably dating back to the eighteenth century when the Netherlands rivaled Britain as a maritime power. There are dozens of versions--many of them a lot more offensive than the one I learned from my dad. Here's the version I learned:

Drink, drink, drink, drink,
Drank, drank, drank, drank,
Drunk, drunk, drunk, drunk

Drunk last night. Drunk the night before,
Gonna get drunk tonight like I never got drunk before,
For when I'm drunk I'm as happy as can be;
For I am a member of the Souse family,
For the Souse family is the best family
That ever came over from Old Germany.

Sing Glorious!
One keg of beer for the four of us!
Sing glory be to God that there are no more of us;
For one of us can drink it all alone, damn near.

There's the Highland Dutch, and the Lowland Dutch;
The Rotterdam Dutch, and the God damned Dutch.


God made the Irish. He didn't make much;
But a hell of a lot more than the God damned Dutch.


By the bar, where I smoked my first cigar
And the nickels and the dimes rolled away (rolled away).
It was there by chance that I tore my Sunday pants.
And now I have to wear them every day, damn near.

Final Chorus

The last stanza, a parody of the hymn, "At the Cross," isn't part of the traditional song, but, in the way of folk songs, found its way into it.

You can find several versions of the song on YouTube, including a cleaned-up version by Mitch Miller, and the University of California version sung after the "Big Game" with Stanford last November. (They sing it very well--I don't think many of them were drunk.)

There won't be a PBS special on "The God Damned Dutch" as there was for "Amazing Grace," but it would be interesting to trace this song back.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cassandra's Apologia: An Argument for Blogging

Nearly four years ago, I was working on a novel contest for White Wolf, and wanted to name one of my principal characters Cassandra, as she was someone who told the truth, but was not believed. But I wasn't sure of the Cassandra legend. I did a Google search, and found The cassandra pages, which not only gave me a brief summary of the legend, but introduced me to the world of blogging. In those days, it seemed, almost everyone was blogging. I was extremely lucky that the first blog I read was beautifully written and always insightful. And through the cassandra pages, written by Beth Adams, I met some other wonderful people, including Peter, of slow reads, and Patry Francis, of simply wait. I began this blog in large part because of my serendipitous discovery of Beth's.

But as Beth points out in a post marking the sixth anniverary of her blog, many of us have tired of blogging, or have spent more of our time on social networking sites, such as MySpace or Facebook. I have a Facebook page, and I enjoy being able to connect with friends and relatives on it. But the Facebook medium is one which promotes brief quips--epigrams, if you like. But it isn't conducive to kind of writing exemplified by Beth, Peter, Patry, and others. The kind of writing that makes you reconsider your own views.

I commented on her blog that I found that my best writing outside the blog was done while I was actively blogging. She replied in an e-mail to me:

I think blogging is a way of keeping in shape, so to speak. Journal-writing was like that for me too. If you keep exercising the writing muscles, then they're there both when you need a quick burst, or to make an endurance run. It's the same for me with music practice - when I let it go for days or weeks, it's so much harder to get back into it.

I'm hoping that in this case, Beth is not a Cassandra, and thoughtful blogging will not diminish on the Web.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

From the Myrtle of Venus to the Shores of Tripoli

Olivia, of "Olivia's Sunrise of New Beginnings," has been giving her readers a virtual tour of the museums and other attractions of our nation's capital. (And you could pay good money for a tour that's a lot less informative and interesting than hers.) A recent post included a tour of the Museum of American History, and a description of the original Star Spangled Banner--the one that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814, and which inspired Francis Scott Key, a prisoner aboard a British ship, to write the poem, "The Defence of Fort M'Henry," which became the words to our national anthem. It reminded me of the story of the poem, and of the only well-known tune that fit its meter and rhyme, "The Anacreontic Song," better-known by its opening line, "To Anacreon in Heaven."

"The Defence of Fort M'Henry" appears to be a reworking of an earlier poem Key had written in 1805, to celebrate the return of Stephen Decatur, jr., and Charles Stewart from the Barbary Pirates' conflict. Entitled simply, "Song," it follows the same meter and rhyme scheme, and ends each stanza with: "...mixed with the olive, the laurel shall wave,/And form a bright wreath for the brows of the brave." Even the phrase "Star Spangled flag" appears in "Song."

The Wikipedia article on "The Anacreontic Song" states that Key's brother, "on hearing the poem Key had written, realised it fit the tune of The Anacreontic Song." I suspect, though, that Key had the song in mind when he wrote the first poem, as it refers at the end of each stanza to the mixing of two plants. The final chorus of "To Anacreon:" "And long may the Sons/Of Anacreon intwine/The Myrtle of Venus/With Bacchus's Vine."

"The Anacreontic Song" was sung at meetings of the Anacreontic Society, an eighteenth-century London gentlemen's club for amateur musicians. It got its reputation as a drinking song because of a tradition that if a member could sing a stanza of the song successfully, he was sober enough for another round. And the difficulty of singing the tune, even when sober, has been one of the strongest arguments of those who wish to replace "The Star Spangled Banner" as our national anthem with something more singable, such as "America the Beautiful."

The late writer and scientist Isaac Asimov wrote a very powerful defense of "The Star-Spangled Banner," though even he had a problem with the third stanza. It's a little embarrassing to have the line, "No refuge could save/the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight,/or the gloom of the grave" in our national anthem. But, of course, few people ever get beyond the first stanza.

Another song with roots in the Barbary Pirates conflict is The Marines' Hymn, which makes reference to "the shores of Tripoli." Actually, the Marines never made it to Tripoli in that conflict, but they came close. Like "The Star Spangled Banner," the poem was written first, and a tune was found to fit it. And it appears that the Jacques Offenbach's "Gendarmes Duet" from the comic opera Genevieve de Brabant was the tune used. The men-at-arms who sing it are portrayed as, well, not exactly models of Marine Corps values:

I don't think anyone has suggested the Marines change their hymn, though. The tune works in spite of its beginnings. And it's not hard to sing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust-" Two Marriage poems.

After subjecting my readers to the Beat poem of the last post, I thought I'd post one of my favorite Beat poems, "Marriage," by Gregory Corso. The "She" in the final stanza is a reference to the novel She by H. Rider Haggard.

Should I get married? Should I be good?
Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustus hood?
Don't take her to movies but to cemeteries
tell all about werewolf bathtubs and forked clarinets
then desire her and kiss her and all the preliminaries
and she going just so far and I understanding why
not getting angry saying You must feel! It's beautiful to feel!
Instead take her in my arms lean against an old crooked tombstone
and woo her the entire night the constellations in the sky-

When she introduces me to her parents
back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie,
should I sit with my knees together on their 3rd degree sofa
and not ask Where's the bathroom?
How else to feel other than I am,
often thinking Flash Gordon soap-
O how terrible it must be for a young man
seated before a family and the family thinking
We never saw him before! He wants our Mary Lou!
After tea and homemade cookies they ask What do you do for a living?
Should I tell them? Would they like me then?
Say All right get married, we're losing a daughter
but we're gaining a son-
And should I then ask Where's the bathroom?

O God, and the wedding! All her family and her friends
and only a handful of mine all scroungy and bearded
just wait to get at the drinks and food-
And the priest! he looking at me as if I masturbated
asking me Do you take this woman for your lawful wedded wife?
And I trembling what to say say Pie Glue!
I kiss the bride all those corny men slapping me on the back
She's all yours, boy! Ha-ha-ha!
And in their eyes you could see some obscene honeymoon going on-
Then all that absurd rice and clanky cans and shoes
Niagara Falls! Hordes of us! Husbands! Wives! Flowers! Chocolates!
All streaming into cozy hotels
All going to do the same thing tonight
The indifferent clerk he knowing what was going to happen
The lobby zombies they knowing what
The whistling elevator man he knowing
Everybody knowing! I'd almost be inclined not to do anything!
Stay up all night! Stare that hotel clerk in the eye!
Screaming: I deny honeymoon! I deny honeymoon!
running rampant into those almost climactic suites
yelling Radio belly! Cat shovel!
O I'd live in Niagara forever! in a dark cave beneath the Falls
I'd sit there the Mad Honeymooner
devising ways to break marriages, a scourge of bigamy
a saint of divorce-

But I should get married I should be good
How nice it'd be to come home to her
and sit by the fireplace and she in the kitchen
aproned young and lovely wanting my baby
and so happy about me she burns the roast beef
and comes crying to me and I get up from my big papa chair
saying Christmas teeth! Radiant brains! Apple deaf!
God what a husband I'd make! Yes, I should get married!
So much to do! Like sneaking into Mr Jones' house late at night
and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books
Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower
like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence
like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest
grab her and tell her There are unfavorable omens in the sky!
And when the mayor comes to get my vote tell him
When are you going to stop people killing whales!
And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust-

Yes if I should get married and it's Connecticut and snow
and she gives birth to a child and I am sleepless, worn,
up for nights, head bowed against a quiet window, the past behind me,
finding myself in the most common of situations a trembling man
knowledged with responsibility not twig-smear nor Roman coin soup-
O what would that be like!
Surely I'd give it for a nipple a rubber Tacitus
For a rattle a bag of broken Bach records
Tack Della Francesca all over its crib
Sew the Greek alphabet on its bib
And build for its playpen a roofless Parthenon

No, I doubt I'd be that kind of father
Not rural not snow no quiet window
but hot smelly tight New York City
seven flights up, roaches and rats in the walls
a fat Reichian wife screeching over potatoes Get a job!
And five nose running brats in love with Batman
And the neighbors all toothless and dry haired
like those hag masses of the 18th century
all wanting to come in and watch TV
The landlord wants his rent
Grocery store Blue Cross Gas & Electric Knights of Columbus
impossible to lie back and dream Telephone snow, ghost parking-
No! I should not get married! I should never get married!
But-imagine if I were married to a beautiful sophisticated woman
tall and pale wearing an elegant black dress and long black gloves
holding a cigarette holder in one hand and a highball in the other
and we lived high up in a penthouse with a huge window
from which we could see all of New York and even farther on clearer days
No, can't imagine myself married to that pleasant prison dream-

O but what about love? I forget love
not that I am incapable of love
It's just that I see love as odd as wearing shoes-
I never wanted to marry a girl who was like my mother
And Ingrid Bergman was always impossible
And there's maybe a girl now but she's already married
And I don't like men and-
But there's got to be somebody!
Because what if I'm 60 years old and not married,
all alone in a furnished room with pee stains on my underwear
and everybody else is married! All the universe married but me!

Ah, yet well I know that were a woman possible as I am possible
then marriage would be possible-
Like SHE in her lonely alien gaud waiting her Egyptian lovers
o i wait-bereft of 2,000 years and the bath of life.

-Gregory Corso

Kathleen and I joked about having this poem read at our wedding. We did go to cemeteries before we were married. We kissed under the Black Angel, though not at midnight under a full moon. Of course, we didn't use "Marriage." We chose Shakespeare's Sonnet 116. It's pretty hard to go wrong with that:

LET me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love ’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Beat Generation Classic in the Three-Dollar DVDs

Kathleen and I were at Big Lots this afternoon and we were going through the $3 DVDs when I spotted A Bucket of Blood. She was a little confused about my excitement in finding it, as I don't like violent movies. I explained that it was a Beat Generation classic, filmed in Venice, California. It was an early effort of director Roger Corman, who produced it in five days on a $50,000 budget. Even in 1959 dollars, it was a tiny budget for a film.

The opening scene was well worth the $3 price. Character actor Julian Burton is the poet, and his poem, though a parody, isn't a gross one. Part of it seems to be a parody of Kenneth Rexroth's "Thou Shalt Not Kill: A Memorial to Dylan Thomas," which was a staple of Beat poetry readings and an obvious influence on Allen Ginsberg's Howl: For Carl Solomon.

Some of the coffeehouse scenes were shot at The Gas House, a Venice landmark that was torn down in the early Sixties. For someone who was a bit young to experience the Beat scene in its heyday, A Bucket of Blood is a window on that era.

It's not a great movie, but it's certainly a great period piece. In a later coffeehouse scene, an unknown folksinger performs a creditable rendition of Ewan MacColl's "The Ballad of Tim Evans." Dick Miller, who played the lead role in the film, told writer Beverly Gray that "The story was good, the acting was good, the humor in it was good, the timing was right, everything about it was right—-but they didn't have any money for production values, and it suffered."

It's too bad there weren't some DVD extras about the Beat era and the making of the film. But for three bucks, I can't complain

Monday, March 09, 2009

In Which Stephen Wanders from Blogger Wood into Facebook Meadow, and is Trampled by a Herd of Digital Heffalumps

"Steve! It's about time you got onto FB! I was just thinking of you today and thinking that I should see if you are on!"

Alas, I have finally given in and joined Facebook, in a moment of weakness Sunday night. My three children are on Facebook. My son-in-law is on Facebook. My brother is on Facebook. My wife is on Facebook. And a lot of my blogging friends are too, including the individual who sent me the above message. A few hours later that same individual announced she would be giving up Facebook for the rest of Lent.

When I filled in my profile, I noticed that Facebook had a memory for recent movies or books, but not necessarily for anything unusual, eccentric, or more than a few years old. Under "Favorite Movies," it recognized the relatively recent "Quiz Show," but not the classic Hitchcock film, "The 39 Steps." No recognition for Incredible String Band fans. Oddly enough, Facebook did recognize classical composers, including Ralph Vaughan Williams.

My high school, University High School in Iowa City, was unknown to Facebook. It did close in 1972, but I'm sure there are many U-High graduates on Facebook.

Almost as soon as I set up the account and made some friend requests, the friends started coming in. It's nice to be popular, but I was, well, overwhelmed, or at least whelmed.

And then I'm poked, tagged, and hugged. I'm not really sure what any of them mean, but one hug almost crashed my computer. I accepted a digital hug from one person, and tried to return it. But when I tried to send the hug, a pop-up ad for Domino's Pizza blocked it. There was no way to confirm the hug or to get rid of the Domino's ad, at least not that I could see. I gave up.

Now that I think about it, what nearly crashed my computer was not the hug, but attempting to make a friend request. When I made the request, I got another pop-up--this from the dreaded Capcha monster, which was speaking German at me. Honest, Capcha wanted me to type in "Mittag 18." When I typed it in, I got an error message. I clicked on "OK" and then got more Capcha pop-ups, but with no words to type in. From that point my computer was frozen. I had to restart the computer.

My Facebook page is under my full name, Stephen Crews Wylder. I'd be happy to have any of my readers here as friends. It just may take a while for me to confirm the requests.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

"And the Gargoyles Only Sit and Grieve:" Phil Ochs in Chicago

Evan, of Two Dishes, But to One Table, wrote a fascinating post on the folksinger Phil Ochs, who died by his own hand in 1976. He makes this interesting point: "Ochs had a lesser-known rival zoom past him, aping his style a bit, I think. Sitting here today in a coffee shop on 34th Street, I heard "American Pie" for the millionth royalty-generating time in my life and realized that Don McLean's voice (his voice itself!) and song both derive from Ochs just as much as, say, Sum 41 derives from Green Day nowadays. " (I'll have to take his comparison on faith. I've listened to a number of Green Day songs, but I've never heard of Sum 41.) Initially I was going to disagree with him, but then realized that even McLean's best song, "Vincent," has imagery reminiscent of Ochs (though far less so than "American Pie").

I've been thinking a lot about Ochs recently, because of the novel I'm writing, or trying to write, much of which takes place in Chicago during the week of the 1968 Democratic Convention. Ochs sang at the "LBJ Un-Birthday Party at the Chicago Coliseum August 27. Following is an excerpt of the first draft (and I emphasize first draft) of the novel. The narrator, Timothy Rymer, is a youth correspondent for the Indianapolis Times (which folded in 1965, except in the world of this novel). He faces a personal test in the next few days. Failure would cause some horrific consequences, and there are some powerful people who are trying to make sure he fails. His true love, Helena McKechnie, whose mother was a Parsi and is descended from Magi, has a calling to the Episcopal priesthood at a time when it was male-only. Their friends, Liane Thorvaldsen and Gregory Berberian, are journeyman metaphysicians and are something of guardian angels to Tim and Helena. (The story morphed into magical realism. Gregory once [earlier in the novel, in 2005--there's spiritual time travel involved] reminded Timothy of the fact that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was first published in Britain as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. There was once little difference, he explained, between philosophers and sorcerers.)

One difference between the story and the video above is that the frenzy of card-burning takes place during the song, "The War is Over" rather than "I Ain't Marching Anymore." There were conflicting accounts of the concert, and I chose the wrong one. It will be fixed in the next draft.

Excerpt from Things Done and Left Undone by Stephen Crews Wylder:

At around six-thirty that evening we squeezed into the VW and headed south, toward the Chicago Coliseum on Wabash Avenue. There was a huge crowd at Lincoln Park. Helena slowed, and pulled into the lot off Clark We couldn’t see Bobby Seale, but we could hear him.

“If a pig comes up to us and starts swinging a billy club, and you check around and you got your piece--you gotta down that pig in defense of yourself… If a pig comes up and starts swinging a club, then put it over his head and lay him out on the ground.”

We listened for a while longer while I took notes.

“I pray that no one dies tonight,” said Helena. “Have you enough notes, Timothy?”

I said yes, and we turned east to get to Lake Shore Drive, then south to to Michigan Avenue. At Adams we turned right, then left on Wabash. Once south of the Loop, Helena found a parking place and we walked the few blocks to the Coliseum. The place was nearly seventy years old and showed its age.

I had done some research on it, and had learned of its bizarre history. The guy who built it had the Confederate Libby Prison in Richmond dismantled and shipped to Chicago, and then rebuilt it, stone by stone. It was a tourist attraction for a while, but it didn’t pay, so he used some of the prison stones to build the Coliseum, a nineteenth-century castle with turrets and parapets surrounding a hall that could hold 6000. Theodore Roosevelt had accepted the Progressive Party’s nomination for president at the Coliseum in 1912. The three-way election that followed put Woodrow Wilson in the White House. Later it had been home to the Chicago Zephyrs basketball franchise and the National Hockey League’s Blackhawks. Tonight was probably the Coliseum’s last hurrah.

We paid a dollar and a half each at the box office and walked into the cavernous space. A band called “Home Juice,” named for a Chicago company whose trucks delivered fruit juice to people’s homes, was trying to see how many decibels these old walls could stand.

As the din of Home Juice subsided, I saw Allen Ginsberg sitting on the edge of the stage, doing a yoga exercise. Ed Sanders of the Fugs, the master of ceremonies, introduced the writer Jean Genet, a short balding man, who addressed the crowd in his heavy French accent, saying he that while he loved the Yippies, the ones he really loved were the ones who dressed unconventionally--the Chicago cops. The crowd loved him.

Allen Ginsberg had lost his voice the previous night, so he continued to do yoga on the stage while Sanders read his statement on the power of Om.

“I bring you greetings from Norman Mailer,” said David Dellinger. Applause and cheers echoed through the hall. He went on to give a fine antiwar speech, though some of the speeches that followed were less than rational.

Phil Ochs came onstage to deafening applause, and went into “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore.” It was an electrifying performance. He followed it up with “ The Power and Glory, perhaps his best song, and one that puts the lie to those who say we don‘t love our country:

This is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her story shall rest on us all

We were wiping the tears from our eyes when he began “The War is Over,” with its last lines, so fitting in this nineteenth-century castle:

And the gargoyles only sit and grieve
The gypsy fortune teller told me that we'd been deceived
You only are what you believe.
I believe the war is over It's over, it's over

The hall erupted with cheers and applause. People had their hands in the air, giving the “V” sign for peace. Some were burning money, draft cards, or whatever they had on hand to burn. All four of us were caught up in the excitement, though none of us burned anything. It’s easy to be seduced by the crowd, especially when you‘re in harmony with it. But I‘ve always been uneasy about crowd situations, and I felt myself holding back just a little.

And then came Abbie Hoffman, screaming and ranting about a march to the Amphitheatre. The crowd had lost control. Most would have followed him, had he decided to march then and there. But he left the stage, and Paul Krassner followed.

He told a story of a journalist who had interviewed Lyndon Johnson. After the official interview was over, the president said, “You know, what the Communists are really saying is, 'Fuck you, Lyndon Johnson,' and nobody says 'Fuck you, Lyndon Johnson,' and gets away with it!" He paused. "Well, when I count three, we're all gonna say it -- and we're gonna get away with it! Are you ready? One...two...three..."

“Fuck you, Lyndon Johnson” roared the crowd, though with at least four exceptions.

“That’s the last thing I want to do,” said Liane, causing a few titters around us. Helena put her arm around me and whispered her thanks for not joining in.

“I hope this program does not go out with that,” she said.It didn’t. It was Dick Gregory, the black comedian, who told a few of his jokes and then began reading:

“When in the course of human events,” he started, and the audience became quiet. The crowd cheered when he got to “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It was Dick Gregory’s delivery that reminded us of that this was a revolutionary document. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” Gregory continued.

But the climax of his reading came with the next sentence: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The yells, cheers, and whoops reverberated through the old building, as the crowd gave Home Juice a run for its money. As the cheers finally subsided, people began heading for the exits. We followed them out the exit and into the cool Chicago night.

I saw the hand raised first, then the knife, and finally the painted face of the Yippie who wielded it. Greg, his target, reacted first, deflecting the knife, but cutting himself in the process. I made a lunge for his right arm, while Helena grabbed his left. The man was incredibly strong, and the three of us were barely able to prevent another thrust.

And then the man went limp. His eyes glazed over as he collapsed on us.

“Let him down slowly,” said Greg. “This wasn’t his idea.”

I looked around and saw Liane, staring intently toward the other side of Wabash. Greg’s arm was cut. Someone gave him a clean handkerchief to stop the bleeding.

"Don’t call the cops,” Greg said to the onlookers. This guy’s just hopped up on meth. I’m O.K.”

To me, he said, “It’s Liane who’s fought the hardest. Make sure she doesn’t fall.”

Helena and I went to her. She was still staring, but wavering. We both steadied her while Greg got up slowly and began staring in the same direction as Liane. We looked in the direction of their gaze and saw a man in a suit and tie staring back. He turned abruptly and disappeared into the crowd.