Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Harper Simon: Yankee Doodle

I've been slowly working my way through Song of America, the 3-disc compilation of "the history of America through music" put together by Janet Reno. Yes, Janet Reno. For real.

One song that I keep coming back to is the Harper Simon (Paul Simon's son) version of "Yankee Doodle". I never even *liked* "Yankee Doodle" was just one of those catchy but kind of annoying tunes with goofy lyrics that you learn when you're a kid. But this version really took me by surprise. And it made me do 3 things:

First, Harper Simon's dreamy, cool version forced me to actually like the song itself. You can listen to it on iTunes and see what I mean.

Then, it made me actually think about it. What day to day life must have been like for soldiers during the Revolutionary War, many who were just boys, gathered by the thousands to fight.
Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding;
And there we saw the men and boys,
As thick as hasty pudding.

Yankee doodle, keep it up,
Yankee doodle dandy;
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

There was Captain Washington
Upon a slapping stallion,
A-giving orders to his men,
I guess there was a million.
Finally, it made me look it up. Apparently, the song was written by the British and was sung to deride and make fun of the American soldiers. Funny how it has become completely co-opted and is such a firm part of the American tradition. This quote is from the Library of Congress website:
"Doodle," as found in old English dictionaries, meant a sorry, trifling fellow; a fool or simpleton. "Dandy," on the other hand, survived also as a description of a gentleman of affected manners, dress, and hairstyle. All taken, "Yankee Doodle" is a comic song and a parody. Indeed, the British made fun of rag-tag American militiamen by playing "Yankee Doodle" even as they headed toward the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
On an interesting side note, in February, Harper Simon is apparently coming out with an album that is a collaboration with Edie Brickell. Sheesh...think I'm looking forward to *that* one just a little bit?

Here's an NPR story on Janet Reno's Song of America.


Anonymous said...

Janet Reno? For serious?

Wow, I had no idea the song was a parody. You learn something new every day (well, at least if you visit Please Come Flying). And Edie's and Paul's son's name is Harper? I love that. And he and his mama will be releasing a CD? Love that, too. Is that him on the front page of her site? I can't get that movie on her site to work. Oh well.


Josephine Cameron said...

Yeah, I know. Janet Reno.

& I'm pretty sure that Harper is Paul Simon's son from a previous marriage. (Can anyone corroborate?) Still sweet, though.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Harper is Peggy Harper's son, Paul's first wife.