A short history of “Yankee Doodle”

One of my current projects is a book called Yesterday’s Songs Transformed, a history of how songs have been rewritten, repurposed, and parodied through the ages. It’s a lot of fun to research, if nothing else. Here’s a section of my draft on “Yankee Doodle” and some of the changes it went through.

Undoubtedly the most rewritten and transformed song of the American Revolution was “Yankee Doodle.” Its origins are uncertain, but its earliest versions mocked Americans as country bumpkins. The tune is older than any form of the words. A British Army surgeon, Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, is credited with writing one of the mocking versions, though the song has gone through so many changes that it isn’t clear which words are his. These may have been his words:

Brother Ephraim sold his Cow
And bought him a Commission,
And then he went to Canada
To Fight for the Nation;
But when Ephraim he came home
He prov’d an arrant Coward,
He wouldn’t fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devour ‘d.

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Song: Mary Dyer

Wikimedia image of Mary DyerSong blogging time again. I introduced this song at the MASSFILC gathering on March 4. I’ve been thinking about an alternate history cycle involving the Quakers, and decided to start with actual history. The lyrics and sheet music are on my website.
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Student lunacy, in the sixties and today

When I started at MIT in 1969, there were two student movements. The larger one was motivated mostly by opposition to the Vietnam War and fear of being drafted into it. A smaller but noisier group actually supported Communism, cheered dictators, and sometimes engaged in violence. In MIT’s Building 10 lobby (under the Great Dome), one of them punched me in the nose hard enough that I bled. Near Harvard Square, where I was involved in a pro-freedom demonstration, an attacker used an improvised incendiary device to set fire to a 13-star US flag we carried, and the fire spread to my sweater. (I wasn’t hurt, and the assailant was later convicted.)

Melissa Click pointing angrily at somethingToday we have a different kind of student lunacy, with people assaulting Trump supporters, calling for muscle against journalists, but mostly whining that everything is traumatic to them. They suffer feelings of intense distress over chalked political slogans, independent news coverage, and even grades.

The anti-freedom movement of the “sixties” (which extended into the early seventies) wasn’t admirable in any way, but at least it was an enemy worth opposing. They envisioned a world in which “people’s” revolutions would take over one country after another, seizing private property and imprisoning or killing those who stood in their way. They loved mass murderers like Che Guevara and Mao Zedong.

Today’s movement is about trigger warnings and fear that they might hear something uncomfortable, about having “safe spaces” where they’re safe from dissenting views and controversy. This attitude has even spread to spread to science fiction conventions and one filk convention, where speech codes prohibit saying anything derogatory about anyone.

If the anti-freedom student movement of the sixties was Darth Vader, today’s movement is Kylo Ren.

Today academics teach students that conformity of thought is mandatory. The president of Emory University expressed horror at hearing “about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.” My most satirical filk songs have never topped that for irony. Nicholas Kristof has published a followup to his earlier piece on progressive intolerance (which he grants the undeserved title of “liberal” intolerance) in which he learned that many academic progressives regard people who disagree with them as “idiots” who are guilty of “hateful, hateful bigotry.” I’m now convinced that the obsession with physiological diversity is a desperate attempt to keep themselves from realizing that they want nothing but orthodoxy and conformity.

It’s almost enough to make me long for the good old days of wearing a burning sweater.

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The forgotten story of eugenics

'White' and 'colored' drinking fountainsWhen I was in college, a professor maintained that the racial hostilities of the time (around 1970) were carried over from slavery and Reconstruction, still fresh a century later. That never seemed like a sufficient explanation to me, and recently I’ve been learning more about an important piece of the history. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, bad science tried to put “race” on a scientific basis gave new life to the idea that some racial groups were superior to others. The Foundation for Economic Education has run a number of articles on the subject lately, such as “How States Sterilized 60,000 Americans – And Got Away with It”. I’ve also been reading a library book, Race Unmasked: Biology and Race in the 20th Century by Michael Yudell.

The terms “moron” and “imbecile” are just insults today, but to the eugenics movement they were precise terms, used to justify practices like forced sterilization. The weak-minded needed to be kept from breeding. The idea had roots in a misapplication of Darwinian theory, using imprecise methods that couldn’t distinguish lack of education from defective genes. Not surprisingly, this led to the conclusion that the groups that were denied access to education had genetically weaker brains.
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The “first programmer”? Don’t insult her

In some circles it’s become an article of dogma that Ada Lovelace was the first computer programmer, and those who dispute it are denounced as “sexist.” When disagreement with a claim becomes heresy, that makes it worth looking into, if only to find out what’s stirring up such passion. Having looked into it, I have to conclude that not only is the claim false, but it trivializes her actual accomplishments. (Here’s an example, whose author says she was coding a mere “adding machine.”)
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On Hitler’s Mountain

Since 1999 I’ve developed very close ties to German filk fandom and lost count of the number of times I’ve visited the country. It’s been hard for me to reconcile what I’ve seen with its Nazi past; few Germans give the impression of the kind of people who’d support a brutal dictatorship. This weekend I’ve read Irmgard A. Hunt’s On Hitler’s Mountain, an account of the author’s growing up under the Third Reich, and it provides a number of clues.
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Kurt Masur

Kurt MasurToday I learned that conductor Kurt Masur has died. It always saddens me to learn about the loss of a major musician, but I’ll admit I’m not a connoisseur of conductors. Unless a performance is really out of the ordinary or noticeably sloppy, I don’t notice the difference, except for a few bits of interpretation which I’m fussy about. On that point, Masur doesn’t pass my Beethoven’s Ninth test (the passage at measure 513, as Toscanini knew, is a juggernaut, not a funeral march!). But no matter; in reading about him, I learned something much more important.
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Benson Park, Hudson

Elephant Barn and future museum at Benson Park

Elephant Barn and future museum at Benson Park

The latest issue of the Hippo informed me that the one-time zoo known as Benson’s Animal Farm in Hudson, NH, re-opened as Benson Park several years ago. Today I went to visit it for the first time since it had closed as a zoo. It put me in mind of the section called “Fossiles” from Saint-Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals.” Almost everything is gone, of course including all the zoo animals. The gorilla house is still there, and the cage where “Colossus” once lived is open to visitors. Inside, I saw two small cells in back that looked like substandard solitary confinement cells. What I remembered best was the elephant barn, which is being converted into a museum.
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Holocaust Memorial in Nashua

Today while riding on my bike I came by the Holocaust Memorial on Main Street in Nashua, across from Shaw’s. I’d known it was there but somehow never noticed it. It’s simply and powerfully designed.
Holocaust Memorial, shot from distance
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Print order placed for Tomorrow’s Songs Today

I’ve placed an order to print 40 copies of Tomorrow’s Songs Today. This is a signed and numbered edition. Nineteen of these will go to crowdfunding supporters, three to Interfilk for auctioning, one to the Texas A&M Library, and a few others to specific people. Of course I’ll hang on to two or three for myself. This will leave ten or so to sell, mostly in person at cons. I figure on charging $25 a copy for a wirebound book with a card stock color cover. The rather high per-copy printing cost will preclude selling it at a reasonable price through dealers, so you’ll have to get in touch with me in person if you’re interested. I’ll be at Boskone and expect to have books and tote bags there. Look for me in the filk room.