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Monday, April 11, 2011

Bonny Blue

Tomorrow is the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. Confederate guns blasting the bejesus out of Fort Sumter. Hurrah, boys.


My favorite Civil War tune is the "Bonnie Blue Flag."

I used to whistle this song as I made my gimpy way down the halls of my prestigious, public high school in between classes, blissfully unaware of, or indifferent to, the fact that openly expressing a fervor for Civil War marches and ballads was a way to remain utterly sexless.

Of course, I tell myself now that high schoolers back in the late nineties were, as a general rule, having far less sex than high schoolers are today. I'm not aware of any empirical data that either proves this statement right or wrong. I could probably Google it, but we all know I'm far too lazy for that. Besides, I only employ stats when I'm sure they're going to prove my point, and when they're relatively easy to understand.

It's a Southern song, one of the most popular during the course of the war, and after, perhaps only superceded in Southern-fried love by "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." I used to whistle that one a lot in high school, too. It is perhaps old folklore I am repeating that there is still a law on the books in our nation's capital that you can be arrested for whistling "Dixie" on Federal grounds. Fortunately, such a brazen act was permitted at my Pennsylvania high school, and I faced no grievous repercussions for my mini-treason.

Civil War songs beg to be sung, hummed, and whistled. If they were good enough to keep thousands of young men from going absolutely insane on thirty mile a day marches in 100+ degree heat, you can pretty much rest assured they can be of service anywhere, at any time. To my ear, the Southern songs pack more of a punch, but "The Battle Cry of Freedom" is as stirring a song as I've ever heard.

"For although he may be poor,
No man shall be a slave,
That is the battle cry of freedom."

Can I get an "A-men?"

The earliest memory I have of falling for Civil War ballads was when I was ten years old. In a thrift shop somewhere, I randomly purchased, for the weighty cost of $0.50, a tape of Civil War marches and folksongs. I played it for my father one Saturday morning in his Pontiac Bonneville as he drove me to his factory. He and I spent lots of Saturdays together when I was a boy. He would go for 1/2-a-day on Saturdays and take me with him. I would play on the conveyor belt (not a good idea, in hindsight), take the messages from his answering machine, screw around with the time-clock and the tape-dispensing machine, basically touch anything that had buttons, and, on the long commute, I'd play my Civil War music for him.

"Where the hell did you get to like this music?" my father asked me one morning.

"I don't know," I said.

And, really, I didn't. I still don't. Sometimes I wonder if I've been somehow genetically programmed to store an affection for the Victorian era and its trappings:

eccentric facial hair
bowler hats
three-piece suits
antique eyeglasses
antique typewriters
The Civil War
Gilbert & Sullivan
Mark Twain

I mean, I could go on. Really.

Sometimes, in the mornings, when I go into work early, the first assignment I have is "Personal Care." All it consists of is unlocking the cabinets in the day room for the ladies, putting out the mirrors, hair styling gel, curling irons and hair dryers and supervising their use, while I sit back in a wicker chair and drink my coffee and make sure no one's strangling themselves (or anyone else) with a hair dryer).

It's one of my favorite assignments, and not just because it's basically me getting paid to sit on my keister, it's because I get to play my Victorian music, because, let's face it: that shit's pretty therapeutic. The two CDs I favor are the Gilbert & Sullivan overtures, and a CD called "Mark Twain's America."

The latter CD is all piano music played by Jacqueline Schwab (if you've ever seen a Ken Burns documentary, you've heard her) performing songs that either Sam Clemens professed in a journal or book that he personally liked, or just songs that were popular while he was alive.

"I love this version of 'Beautiful Dreamer'," a patient will inevitably say to me, at least once a week. Without fail, somebody (always a female) recognizes "Beautiful Dreamer." It always surprises me when some 50-year-old woman with schizophrenia, wearing a bathrobe, pieces of tissue stuck inside her ears, and three pair of pants picks out "Beautiful Dreamer" amongst the Civil War-era ballads and melodies.

Every once in a while, a patient will ask me to write down the title of the CD for them. I don't harbor delusions that they're racing each other to Amazon to purchase it, but it's nice to be asked. It's nice to see them sitting in their wicker chairs, with their eyes closed, and a contented smile crossing their lips-- even if it's just for a moment.

They're my beautiful dreamers. They're bonny blue.

1 comment:

  1. It's nice to see them sitting in their wicker chairs, with their eyes closed, and a contented smile crossing their lips-- even if it's just for a moment.


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