Monday, October 29, 2007

Nationalism? Music? You gotta own it!

I just learned that "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" IST not in fact the first words of the current German national anthem. Aparently some controversy over the words (which translate to "Germany, Germany above all/everything!"), cause some to beleive they were a tad too nationalistic.

German nationalism? What harm could that do?

In any case, West Germany opted to use only the milder, less offensive third verse in 1952, and in superficially researching this a little furher, I found this editorial from a German paper.

Germans Stop Humming, Start Singing National Anthem

As you will see if you follow the link, Joseph Haydn wrote the tune forty years before August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben stepped up the jingo lingo while exiled in England of all places and nearly ninety years before the Nazi's put it into practice.

Like the modern soccer hooligan Germans mentioned the article, I genuinely love the tune, but humbly suggest that anyone uncomfortable with the uncomfortable history attached to it give a listen to Noel Coward's London Pride or Elvis Costello's Little Atoms, which both make use of a melody similar to Hadyn's in interesting ways.

Coward's song, true to the sweepingly fey chariacature of British homo-masculinity that he so deftly mastered, re-writes the tune about a flower which can grow just about anywhere in the heart of London. Coward wrote it during the London Blitz, whilst huddled in the Underground amazed at the resiliance of the British public. According to Coward:

London Pride was written in the spring of 1941. I was standing on the platform of a London railway station on the morning after a bad blitz. Most of the glass in the station roof had been blown out and there was dust in the air and the smell of burning.

The train I was waiting to meet was running late and so I sat on a platform seat and watched the Londoners scurrying about in the spring sunshine. They all seemed to me to be gay and determined and wholly admirable, and for a moment or two I was overwhelmed by a wave of sentimental pride. The song started in my head then and there, and was finished in a couple of days.

The tune is based on the traditional lavender-seller’s song, "Won't You Buy My Sweet-Smelling Lavender, There Are Sixteen Bunches One Penny". This age-old melody was appropriated by the Germans and used as a foundation for "Deutschland Uber Alles", and I considered that the time had come for us to have it back in London where it belonged. I am proud of the words of this song. They express what I felt at the time, i.e. London Pride.

(Coward wartime stuff is amazingly complex for being so sentimental, listen also to his 1943 song Don't Let's Beastly to the Germans

Interestingly, Elvis Costello's song begins with similarily flowery allusions ("I arose and Marigold lay down with Curious Iris / Cherry gave to Victor her prudence and her virus...") only to turn further inward about how the first-person speaker of the song "betray with a kiss," "the particles of me that care for this."

Which bring me to my main point and the reason I'm putting this up: the author of the above article does not mention the myriad of permutations of the tune, which begs more pressing questions about ownership and property, which are the very systems of thought underlying the problem of nationalism in the first place. Which seems especially pertinent to music with the recent wave of legal action being undertaken in the name of copyrights against file sharing sites like Oink and Demonoid. Music is like the flowers, man--it belongs to everybody! Anyway.

Here's Little Atoms, maybe (they might pull it down)

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