The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

4 January 2005

Look away, already

In 1971 Mickey Newbury put together a track he called "An American Trilogy," which, as advertised, incorporated three songs which qualified as quintessentially American: "All My Trials," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Dixie." Issued on Newbury's Frisco Mabel Joy album, it became a Top 30 hit and prompted a cover version by a quintessential American in his own right, Elvis Presley.

At the Wisconsin Senate inaugural yesterday, the Richland Center High School band played "An American Trilogy," which disturbed Senator Spencer Coggs. Coggs wrote to Dale Schultz, the Senate's Majority Leader (who, incidentally, is from Richland Center), expressing his dismay:

In the future a list of songs should be submitted prior to a performance and the list should be reviewed for its appropriateness.

What's disturbing about "An American Trilogy"? That "Dixie" business. Reminds people of slavery, doncha know.

Um, Senator Coggs? That line about "old times there are not forgotten," like the rest of the song, was written by Dan Emmett. A white guy from Ohio. In 1859, fercrissake.

I expect your next legislative action to be a statewide ban on cotton products.

(Via Tongue Tied.)

Posted at 12:30 PM to Dyssynergy


In the future a list of songs should be submitted prior to a performance and the list should be reviewed for its appropriateness.

"In the future a list of planned newspaper stories should be submitted prior to publication and the list should be reviewed for each article's appropriateness."

Posted by: McGehee at 3:31 PM on 4 January 2005

Just for the hell of it, I bounced this item off a black coworker whose judgment I trust, and she did bring in the word "inappropriate"; I'm not sure if she personally would have been offended — she didn't seem so — but she was quite certain that playing this tune was not a good idea.

To which I said, "Given the number of Mexicans on my family tree, should I be offended by, say, Speedy Gonzales?"

"Some people might," she said, and I left it at that.

Posted by: CGHill at 3:47 PM on 4 January 2005

Well ... I can see both sides of it. On the one hand a lively and regionally descriptive tune created several years before the Civil War but still well within the ramp up period TO the war. On the other hand it is a song that was APPROPRIATED by both the secessionist movement (who considered it the symbol of the idyllic South ... the way it SHOULD be) and then later by the government itself who found the stirring symbology of "our way of life" very useful in their cause (rallying the boys to the flag if your will). As a parallel the Horst Wessel song is obviously a Nazi song but set to the tune of an old Northern Europe folk tune ... If you just here the tune what do people think? Most would think of the Nazi's appropriated version. Music stirs people into thought and remembrance differently. It sets the tone for feelings (one of its intents I would dare to say)and those feelings can be powerful. The metaphor it represents means MUCH more than the words or tune itself and Dixie is the quientessential metaphor of the South as it was ... Plantation, entrenched demagoggery (spelled that way on purpose:) and SLAVERY as an institution. One can argue the semantics of it and the benign musical elements but the feelings and emotions it brings up, no matter their irrationality to some, STILL stirs that image to mind.

Just my thoughts on a well worn controversy.

Posted by: Ron at 8:04 AM on 5 January 2005

I'm an original-intent kind of person; I tend to resist the intrusion of latter-day connotations. I suppose I'm in a minority here.

And after all, swastikas were perfectly innocuous until the Third Reich.

(Does this score under Godwin?)

Posted by: CGHill at 9:58 AM on 5 January 2005