Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Robbie and Ella, Guy and... Diz?
Odd to think that one of the most popular New Year's Eve song renditions should be the version of "Auld Lang Syne" by band leader Guy Lombardo.
We can still enjoy Bing Crosby's take on that song; embrace Ella Fitzgerald singing "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve"; entertain the idea of bluesy New Year's lamentations by Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lightnin' Hopkins; even endure the Olde Sod politics of U2's "New Year's Day." But, like it or not, we owe the popularity of "Auld Lang Syne" to Guy and His Royal Canadians.
The bandleader heard Scottish immigrants sing it up north in Canada, played it at midnight 1929 in New York's Roosevelt Hotel and then at the Waldorf Astoria every year from the early '30s to 1976. By then, America and other parts of the English-speaking world not previously given to Scots dialect had been won over.
Tradition says that poet Robert Burns heard an old man sing some small portion of it, took down the words and polished the lines (a lot), and then died a few months before the new song was finally published in The Scots Musical Museum in 1796. What happened to it for the next century-and-some (other than its being taken up and sung in the British Isles) I guess no one knows. But when Lombardo inadvertently relaunched this changing-of-the-year anthem, whole regions of the world soon learned that "auld acquaintance" should never "be forgot," for "old times sake." (That last is my loose translation of the title phrase; "times gone by" is another approximation.)
Yet the part of the song most commonly sung at midnight on New Year's Eve misleads a bit because it neglects other verses so heavy on the Scots dialect that translation subtitles are likely required. Here are some of those lines, plus my casual readings:
And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp
And surely I'll be mine...
"And surely you'll buy your pint tankard,
And ((of course)) I'll buy mine..."
(Aye, laddie, and doesn't that sound like frugal Scots negotiating?)
We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu'd the gowans fine...
"We two have run ((over)) the hills
And ((picked)) the daisies fine..."
(Ah, yes, those carefree days of youth!)
And there's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine,
And we'll tak a right guid willie-waught
For auld lang syne...
"And there's ((my)) hand, ((old)) trusted friend,
And give us your hand ((too)),
And we'll take a good-will draught ((of ale))
For old times..."
I guess Lombardo instinctively knew better than to dip too far into Scottish dialect, but nothing held me back when I wrote a TV commercial for Heidelberg Beer nearly 30 years ago that pitted an Archie Bunker lookalike against a Scotsman in tartan and tam, who confounded Archie completely by saying things like: "'Tis a braw bricht moonlicht nicht thanicht" and "Gie's a right guid willie-waught!"
As for the rest of us, I recommend we take a cup of kindness on this New Year's Eve and pass it around freely, for all to savor in the 12 months to come. And so, as Prince Charlie might have said... Bonne annee, mes amis. Hae a bonny year!