Today is the 260th anniversary of the birth of poet Robert Burns.
While I have not attended a formal Burns Night Supper in years, I still celebrate in my own way, each and every year.
This evening, I am taken
back several years to the Immortal Memory given by my scholarly university mate, Thomas Keith, at a public Burns Supper given at the First Presbyterian Church on 5th Avenue, in Greenwich Village.
Today is the 206th anniversary of the birth of poet Robert Burns.
While I have not attended a formal Burns Night Supper in years, I still celebrate in my own way, each and every year.
This evening, I am taken back to the Immortal Memory given by my scholarly university mate, Thomas Keith, at a public Burns Supper given at the First Presbyterian Church on 5th Avenue, in Greenwich Village.
Therein, Thomas dispelled the stereotypical image of Burns as a hard drinking libertine (by those who associate him with the old Scots comic songs he collected and sometimes rewrote) by presenting detailed analysis of the poet’s working life and family life, and the sheer volume of his literary life.
Burns can be a difficult read for many Americans these days, given how much of it is written in dialect. What is easy to grasp and relate to is the poet’s theme of romantic love. But what make Burns immortal are his liberal themes of universal equality and social justice.
That is what people like Lincoln and Emerson found so inspiring. And that is why he remains revered wherever there have been popular revolts against oppressive rulers, from the former Soviet satellites to Latin America. And why there are more statues and memorials to Burns in the USA than anywhere else outside of Scotland; even then if only lesser by one.
He grew up when slavery was still legal in Scotland. And like Lincoln, he was mainly home-educated and worked at extremely hard agrarian labor from an early age. And both men could relate to the plight of those in bondage who were paid nothing, and those of the lowest freemen whose backbreaking life profited only their landlords, with little hope of improving the tenant farmer’s lot.
And at this troubling period in our own time, his observations on those on high whose character and true worth are in no way on par with their status can really hit home.
He is appreciated to this day for being ahead of his time when supporting both the American and French Revolutions, when that was a most unpopular position in the UK and the rest of Europe.
And here in this article, a Scotsman argues that Burns’ impact on American culture goes beyond the songs of Bob Dylan to having a direct hand in ending slavery here and in a deep influence on American poetry itself.
But that is not why we have Burns Night Suppers, really.
We do it because how how we relate so clearly to his love and celebration of life’s simple yet profound pleasures, often residing and reflected in “objects in nature around me that are in unison or harmony with the cogitations of my fancy and workings of my bosom.”
That is what brings a tear to the eye, when one is surrounded by their boon companions, reflecting on the joy of the moment and the sheer profundity of our fleeting lives.
His sincere belief in the brotherhood of mankind is why we gather around the globe, in small cottages and extravagant halls, in every hemisphere and on every continent, on this night or whenever we can find the time go meet, and lament that “Young Rabbie” only lived to be 37 years of age, and why we celebrate the eighteenth-century Scotsman whom we like to believe would have liked us as much as we are sure we would have liked him, and who would have accepted our invitation to join us at our table, to raise a glass and sing a song, or seven.
On March 7th, 1965, the historic Selma to Montgomery March took place. Hundreds of marched in support of civil rights for all Americans, and expressly for the rights of African-Americans subjected to institutionalized segregation and bigotry.
The march was blocked by Alabama state troopers and aborted. A second march on March 18th was cancelled due to a court order.
Over 25,000 gathered on March 21st, and with the help of federal troops and law enforcement, they completed the 54 mile trek to the state capital in Montgomery.
While the reality of who Doctor King was and what is actual legacy has been. There is no question that assassinated leader stands today as a martyr to social justice in America. And the Selma March remains one of the most tangible symbols of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was introduced in Congress during the Selma March, and once passed became among the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history.
…the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
Thus Englishman Thomas Paine.
Painting on view at Ft. Lee, New Jersey Visitors Center
“On this date in 1776, General Cornwallis crossed the Hudson River from Manhattan with 5,000 British and Hessian troops to attack the Continental Army at Fort Lee, New Jersey. General Washington ordered a general retreat of 2,000 colonial troops stationed there.
Washington’s army then retreated in a southwest direction through New Jersey, passing through Englewood, Teaneck, Morristown, Princeton, and Trenton. With Cornwallis on his heels, it took Washington 12 days to reach the Delaware River and cross over to the Pennsylvania side.
During the retreat, Thomas Paine wrote those immortal words, rendered above.
“Paine’s pamphlet was read aloud to Continental Army troops on the evening of December 23rd. In the early morning of December 26th, Washington crossed the Delaware to the New Jersey side and attacked Hessian troops stationed at Trenton.”
The rest is history of the United States of America.
While we dedicate this day to honor all veterans, the reason we do it on this specific day should never be taken for granted. The eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month was when the First World War came to its official close, back in 1918. One hundred years ago today.
The end of a war should be commemorated, with giving thanks and celebration, both. Just as its beginning should never be forgotten, while we mourn all that was lost during the war.
Anyone who went to war will have their own personal sacrifice to live with, if they were fortunate enough to live through it in the first place. One does not have to serve in a frontline unit end up in harm’s way, but only the veterans who served in actual combat know the full measure of such service. And yet, we can all know that such events give good reason to mark the end of wars, lest we forget what happens in them.
My grandfathers leather flying helmet and U.S. Navy Air Station “flat hat.”
The Great War of 1914-1918 remains unique in our collective history. Tactics developed during the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War met and were bested by modern weaponry capable of horrors never before visited upon mankind. The results exceed what civilized humans can imagine.
In one battle alone, on the River Somme, there were over one million casualties, with 310,486 killed outright and many more dying in the coming months as a result of their wounds. On a single day in 1916 the British army lost over 57,000 men in one engagement. Such numbers make the American losses on D-Day seem like footnotes. The losses of the French and Germans during the many battles around Verdun are beyond comprehension. And they kept at it; bravely charging into the face death again and again.
On the whole, the world had never seen anything like it. Unfortunately we cannot say such things were never seen again.
Today the 11th November is referred to as Veterans Day and has been expanded to remember and honor all veterans who served their country ever since, in peacetime and in war. That is a good thing…
July 1, 1968 the band called the Band released Music from Big Pink
They changed American music forever
But not just American music was widely influenced by this scraggly group of Americans and Canadians. Eric Clapton heard the record and decided to quite what he was doing and go do something else. He even considered moving to Woodstock, NY to meet these guys and talk them into letting him join the Band.
Here’s the Band 30 years later, joined by the Staple Singers, performing the most iconic song from that first record.
It’s been a long time since we had a Republican President who actually meant what he said and who gave a tinker’s cuss for non-wealthy Americans, minorities, and justice for all.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Acrid truths that cut through the bubble gum and rose colored glasses
In September of 1965 the top charts of hit singles were full of young persons’ love songs, like Yesterday, I Got You Babe, Track of My Tears, California Girls, when Bob Dylan released Positively 4th Street…
“You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend, when I was down you just stood there grinning…”
50 years later it is still an incredibly powerful song.
You got a lotta nerve To say you are my friend When I was down You just stood there grinning
You got a lotta nerve To say you got a helping hand to lend You just want to be on The side that’s winning
You say I let you down You know it’s not like that If you’re so hurt Why then don’t you show it
You say you lost your faith But that’s not where it’s at You had no faith to lose And you know it
I know the reason That you talk behind my back I used to be among the crowd You’re in with
Do you take me for such a fool To think I’d make contact With the one who tries to hide What he don’t know to begin with
You see me on the street You always act surprised You say, “How are you?” “Good luck” But you don’t mean it
When you know as well as me You’d rather see me paralyzed Why don’t you just come out once And scream it
No, I do not feel that good When I see the heartbreaks you embrace If I was a master thief Perhaps I’d rob them
And now I know you’re dissatisfied With your position and your place Don’t you understand It’s not my problem
I wish that for just one time You could stand inside my shoes And just for that one moment I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time You could stand inside my shoes You’d know what a drag it is To see you
As only the Onion would have covered the Moon Landing
To the moon with you!
Some 20 years ago, I was in a rehearsal hall in midtown Manhattan, surrounded by some 8 cast members and the stage manager of the play I was directing, as we discussed age differences in relationships.
I had mentioned there was a time when I told myself I would not date anyone who was born before the Moon Walk – a stipulation that was abandoned in later years.
On actress perked up to say, “I remember that! My mother got me out of bed to watch it on TV.”
She was referring to Michael Jackson’s performing his backwards shuffle on the MTV Awards.
EVERY person in the room assumed I was referring to the same incident.
The one that stands, oh, alongside the invention of the wheel and writing, as one of the greatest achievements in the history of human civilization seems to have been overlooked. And it continues to be taken for granted every since.
It seems the wrong Moon Walk has taken over the consciousness of Americans, if you can call it consciousness.