Saturday, November 21, 2020

And now for something entirely different...

I hate it (is that too strong a word?) when people change the lyrics of a song. I'm sure they have what they consider to be good reasons, but I do not like it one bit when someone's original and well-thought-out words are casually tossed aside and summarily replaced.

Here's an example. In the last verse of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" Julia Ward Howe (I almost said Katherine Lee Bates, silly me) wrote:

as He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free

Many hundreds of thousands of American soldiers actually died during the Civil War to put an end to slavery in the United States of America, but in the last few years that line is frequently changed from "let us die to make men free" to "let us live to make men free".

What's the big deal? you may be asking. Why are you so up in arms (to coin a phrase) about something so unimportant and inconsequential?

I happen to think it makes a difference whether a person is willing to live or willing to die for something -- family, country, faith.

I think it was Eldridge Cleaver who said, "If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem".

I recently heard another change to (would you believe it?) the same song. One verse goes, "I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps / They are building Him an altar in the evening dews and damps / I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps" and someone sang, on film yet, "by the dim and glaring lamps" instead. Not flaring. Glaring. Is that an improvement? I think not. I know warfare has changed a great deal since the 1860s, but is it really necessary that we replace coal oil with flashlight batteries in an iconic song from a certain historic period?

I know there are much more important things to discuss. Covid-19. The electoral college. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

But wasn't it a welcome break to think about something else for a few minutes?

18 comments:

  1. I have been noticing the changes in songs too. It grates against my brain.

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  2. Emma, I know there must be other prominent examples. I’ll probably think of them in the middle of the night a couple of weeks from now.

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  3. I don't like it when they change the original words either. I think the author deserves to have what he wrote remain as he wrote it. I wonder if some changes are simply from laziness or stupidity? In my mind if you are going to give credit to a song to perform it you owe it to the original author to get it right!

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    1. Bonnie, I don’t think it’s either laziness or stupidity. I think it is either unmitigated gall or an enormous amount of chutzpah.

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  4. This is horrifying, not the "Glaring" or the "Live" but the "Men". For heavens sake that should be changed immediately to "Persons".

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    1. Adrian, how could I have overlooked it? Let us change this song immediately, and not just this song but also the Declaratiin of Independence so that it says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all persons regardless of sex, sexual preference, gender identity, race, color/colour, ethnicity, creed (or lack there of), and religion (or lack thereof) are created equal...and that these thirteen colonies and all future states and territories including Washington, D,C. and the island of Puerto Rico, are and of right ought to be free and independent states.” So let it be written. So let it be done. I, the Great and Powerful Oz, have spoken.

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  5. It's a subject that, to be honest, has rarely come into my mind because I know the lyrics to very few songs. However, for some obscure reason, possibly because there are just not enough notes to permit it, the English have a habit of of singing "for the sake of auld lang syne' instead of simply 'auld lang syne'. The former contains an unnecessary (sic) tautology.

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    1. Graham, we sing “and days of auld lang syne” over here in America, and I am given to understand that the phrase means “old long since”, which doesn’t help me at all. Also, do not be concerned about things that are rarely or never brought to mind, as it is the habit of many bloggers to cover subjects about which they know little or nothing. (Pay no attention to me today; I’m in a snarky mood.)

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  6. Your post prompted me to revisit the words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
    Beautiful yet stirring words from a troubled time in the history of your country.
    As for the changes, I look at flaring/glaring and ask myself if that might be a mondagreen?
    Alphie

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  7. Our Lutheran hymnal producers have taken upon themselves to change wording in quite a few hymns in our most recent hymnal. I don't care for it at all. Something is lost and gone forever.

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    1. Jeannelle, hymn book makers in several denominations are the worst when it comes to changing lyrics. It’s almost as if they had an agenda.

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  8. Alphie, I had to go look up mondegreen , just as I once had to look up lavaliere after my eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Mary Lillard, said it. It turned me into a lifelong looker-upper, or perhaps that should be look-upper. You may be right about flaring/glaring but I continue to think it was a deliberate change.

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  9. Words matter. Some might think of this as dull pedantry but there are often reasons why words are changed. Frequently, the reason is laziness and inattention to detail but sometimes there are unpalatable undertones.

    (I trust that this comment complies with the strict RWP comment regulations)

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  10. Yorkshire Pudding, down with unpalatable undertones wherever they are found.

    (It does.)

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  11. I haven't heard that hymn in a long time, and now I am singing to myself. I do prefer the original version, and since I have my husband's old methodist hymnal, that is the version I shall sing. :)

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  12. Kathy, the Methodist hymnal I have shows 5 verses, 4 of them by Julia Ward Howe in 1861, and a 5th verse attributed to “anon” with no date. Everybody wants to get into the act. As long as they don’t mess with the tune (which was originally used for “John Briwn’s Body Lies A-Moulding In The Grave”, although the Methodists don’t mention that), I suppose everything is hunky-dory and more power to anonymous writers everywhere. In case you couldn’t tell, I was being sarcastic.

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  13. You made me laugh.
    Of course now I'm remembering my father in law singing Amazing Grace to the tune of Gilligan's Island.

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    1. Kathy, putting a whole new set of words to an existing tune is more common than you might think, but that is a different topic from changing a word here or there in an existing set of lyrics (substituting glaring for flaring in the Battle Hymn, for instance). Maybe you have given me an idea for another post.

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<b>Flabbergasted </b>

It happened again tonight and I was, as usual, that word up there in the title of this post. But what made it even more unusual than i...