Sunday, May 31, 2009

"James K. Polk" - They Might Be Giants, 1996 (geek rock)

In 1844, the Democrats were split
The three nominees for the presidential candidate
Were Martin Van Buren, a former president and an abolitionist
James Buchanan, a moderate
Louis Cass, a general and expansionist
From Nashville came a dark horse riding up
He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

Austere, severe, he held few people dear
His oratory filled his foes with fear
The factions soon agreed
He's just the man we need
To bring about victory
Fulfill our manifest destiny
And annex the land the Mexicans command
And when the votes were cast the winner was
Mister James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

In four short years he met his every goal
He seized the whole southwest from Mexico
Made sure the tariffs fell
And made the English sell the Oregon territory
He built an independent treasury
Having done all this he sought no second term
But precious few have mourned the passing of
Mister James K. Polk, our eleventh president
Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump

President James Knox Polk was the 11th President of the United States and the last of the Jacksonian legacy and the last strongest President to hold office before the Civil War. Yet despite his monstrous contributions to the country in his single term, he remains somewhat obscure and little discussed. This shouldn't be all that surprising, though, seeing as how he began his Presidential career in obscurity. He does, however, happen to be my favorite President.

He was the first "dark horse" President ever elected. The term "dark horse" is an old horse racing term used to describe a mount that just seems to appear from out of nowhere - no one knows who he is or anything about his career, and therefore it is difficult to forecast how he will perform. A race's "dark horse" is virtually unknown, making it difficult for gamblers to place give odds and bets on. The last of the Jacksonians, he shot out of the gate and upset Henry Clay by a nose. It was the issue of expansion that sealed the victory for Polk.

The clincher in this 1844 election was Manifest Destiny - the belief that the U.S. was destined, if not divinely ordained, to expand across the North American continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Henry Clay did not support this idea, and it cost him the election, although narrowly. In his four years as President, he did a great deal to expand the U.S., which proved to stimulate the country economically. Polk's Presidential administration did everything his campaign promised it would do, and he did it better than everyone expected him to.

Probably one of Polk's most famous contributions to America was his permanent acquisition of Oregon. It was certainly a lynch pin in his campaign. The people's feelings regarding the territory of Oregon ran so strong that adamant proponents and extremists were willing to go to war with Great Britain over it, as is evident by their slogan, "Fifty-four forty or fight!". "Fifty-four" refers to the latitude line that marked the boundary of Oregon - 54 degrees, 40 minutes (54* 40') north latitude. The Oregon Question arose as a result of competing ownerships of Britain and America. Both countries had big dreams for their claims on the Pacific Northwest. Polk never did fight for it, though. Neither country wanted an altercation over the area, and so Great Britain conceded to the U.S. and a shot was never fired.

As a result, the U.S. received permanent ownership of said territories, which eventually became the states of: Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. As a result of that, we can now offer the world: tasty potatoes and apples; grunge music and flannel shirts; a Tony award winning Shakespeare Festival; Appaloosa horses; The Simpsons (Matt Groening was born in Oregon); sportscaster Ahmad Rashad; Batman (Adam West - born in Washington); Microsoft, Windows, and home PCs in general (Bill Gates born in Washington); The Price Is Right (Bob Barker - Washington); Jimi Hendrix (born in - Washington); and an Olympic skier with a cute little name (Picabo Street - born in Idaho).

It was Polk's administration that concluded the Mexican-American War in 1848 (in conjunction with what President Tyler's administration had begun earlier), and as a result the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed and the United States acquired the territory of Texas. Of course, we're talking about Texas "back then". The territory of Texas "back then" consisted of what became the following states: Texas, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and parts of Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana.

As a result of that, we are now the purveyors of: the Bonneville Salt Flats; half a google of country songs about the geography here; a place to put London Bridge; Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers; the subject for title of a U2 album (a Joshua Tree only grows in Arizona); John Denver; one half of "Dashmi" (Demi Moore born in New Mex.); The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, and most of the other cartoons on the Boomerang channel (creator William Hannah born in New Mexico); every Paris Hilton fiasco to hit the tabloids (great-grandfather Conrad Hilton born in New Mexico); Hollywood, the Silver Screen, and nearly every movie you've ever seen; "Sin City" (not the cartoon or the movie...the place); only about most of any professional ball teams that have ever held a national title; and beef, corn, wheat, and anything else that might be in your fridge (during the growing season, of course).

Polk also kept one more promise that he'd made during his campaign. He vowed that if he was elected, he would not run for a second term. That's too bad. He was one politician who actually kept his promises and one politician who arguably made the largest territorial and economic contribution to America, which resulted in an explosion of industries that put people to work and made the U.S. self sufficient and prosperous enough to be able to take care of less fortunate places. Of course, Polk's campaigns weren't the only ones to acquire new land for the U.S., but his incredibly large contribution made it possible for the U.S. to acquire land adjacent to his added territories. As a result of Polk's territorial acquisitions, the United States contains zones of nearly every Koeppen Climate classification. That means that the U.S. contains a sample of nearly every type of environment that the world has to offer. There is no other single country in the world that contains such diversity within its own borders - Mediterranean, humid sub-tropics, tropics, and tundra...from the mountains, to the prairie, to the oceans...white with foam...

"James K. Polk" - They Might Be Giants, 1996

~Information manifest from what I remember from 11th grade American History and places like these:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Whiskey In The Jar" - Metallica version, 1998 (heavy metal)

As I was goin' over the Cork and Kerry Mountains
I saw Captain Farrell and his money, he was countin'
I first produced my pistol and then produced my rapier
I said, "Stand and deliver or the devil he may take ya"

I took all of his money and it was a pretty penny
I took all of his money, yeah, and I brought it home to Molly
She swore that she loved me, no, never would she leave me
But the devil take that woman, yeah, for you know she tricked me easy

M'uishe rinne me me don amada,**
Whack fol the daddy O,
Whack fol the daddy O,
There's whiskey in the jar.

Being drunk and weary I went to Molly's chamber
Takin' Molly with me but I never knew the danger
For about six or maybe seven, yeah, in walked Captain Farrell
I jumped up, fired my pistols and I shot him with both barrels

M'uishe rinne me me don amada,
Whack fol the daddy O,
Whack fol the daddy O,
There's whiskey in the jar.

Now some men like a fishin' but some men like the fowlin'
Some men like to hear, to hear the cannonball roarin'
But me, I like sleepin', 'specially in my Molly's chamber
But here I am in prison, here I am with a ball and chain, yeah

M'uishe rinne me me don amada
Whack fol the daddy O,
Whack fol the daddy O,
There's whiskey in the jar.

**Please note that four years of German has not improved my Gaelic any, and if this part was completely butchered, I do apologize. Nobody is for sure if this is just what the Irish call "lilting" (American's call it 'scat singing') or if it's misspoken Gaelic (as in...drunken, slurred). If those are the correct words, then it's possible that it means "Whiskey has made a fool of me"...or something like that. "Whack fol the daddy, O" sounds like drunken Gaelic for "The work of the devil", which also makes some sense.
Usually I try to use the original recorded artists when making these posts, but for this song I just HAD to use the 1998 Metallica version. First, there wasn't a whole lot of great "something to say" music that came out of the late '90s, and secondly, up until recently there wasn't a great deal of fusion of actual, tradional folk songs and rock-n-roll (especially heavy metal) as there is now.

Although the original song predates modern recording methods by a couple hundred years, the recording of this song is usually credited to The Dubliners who recorded it in the 1960's and gave it more exposure than any other group. However, it wasn't until 1998 that Metallica's cover of Thin Lizzy's 1972 cover brought the song to a huge music audience, blasting the song to #4 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Finally, the best reason to use the Metallica cover as the representative of this song is because we naturally expect nationals to cover songs of their homeland, and such is the case of The Dubliners and Thin Lizzy; yet, we never expect foreigners to cover their folk songs. Metallica pulled it off, and they did it extremely well. The song contains the subject matter that is the entire basis of rock-n-roll music - "Stick it to the man", which is perhaps why our American "metallurgists" shot this song higher on the charts than anyone else ever had.

This is a traditional Irish folk song (of course it is). Many of the song's lines bear a strong resemblance to a traditional ballad concerning the execution of Patrick Fleming in 1650. Regardless of when it first made its appearance, "Whiskey In The Jar" is the classic hero-is-the-villain story. You see, Patrick Fleming was a highwayman. Highwaymen were robbers who travelled on horseback, as opposed to those who travelled on foot. They were also socially superior to any other robbers, so much so that in fact they were often referred to as "knights of the road" or "gentlemen of the road". They were romanticized and became the stuff that legends are made of...just like Robin Hood.

Highwaymen were heroes that transcended the boundaries of societal class. They were secretly applauded by the poor as well as the rich who opposed the ruling royalty. Highwaymen first made their appearance during the Elizabethan period and lasted well into the 19th centuries. Their "rob from the rich" philosophy caught on very quickly and spread to other countries as well. In America, they were called "road agents". In Australia, they were called "bushrangers". You'll notice that these two countries have one thing in particular in common - they were both colonized by the British, but the practice of road robbing didn't spread merely because of colonial efforts.

In colonial America, this song and others like it became extremely popular because highwaymen had become more than just muggers. They represented a stealth rebellion to all things imperial. They were the raspberry seeds in the wisdom teeth of British aristocracy and the British Empire. Under imperial rule, one's criticism of government or talk of revolution often met with harsh punishment and was mainly spoken in hushed undertones and in cautious familiar circles. There were many royal subjects who were highly dissatisfied with the government but who feared repercussions if any change was attempted or even discussed. In this way, the government leaders would control many would-be revolutionaries simply with fear.

Highwaymen were fearless. They stood toe to toe and eye to eye with their victims and directly engaged them. These men were highly confrontational and were not afraid to fight for what they wanted. Their offensive posture and demanding demeanor was often enough to intimidate the victim, who was probably not used to being treated in such a manner, let alone spoken to with such force that obviously accompanied any threatening movements of the robber. "Stand and deliver!" became the first "franchised" demand, beginning somewhere around 1677. Later, somewhere in the 18th century "Your money or your life!" also became a famous line that announced a hold-up.

Highwaymen became symbols of bravery, courage, and strength. It was their practice to lay in wait for their victims at the most dangerous stretches of road. If the road was dangerous for one traveller it was dangerous for all, but these men demonstrated that the payoff and success would be much greater if one took a calculated risk instead of playing it safe. This tactic alone gave them a high success rate. Successful pursuit and capture was highly improbable often due to the status and location of that part of the road and the environment around it. In fact, the strategies of the highwaymen were the very same strategies that the American colonies adopted to fight off unwanted intruders...including the British during the American Revolution. "Militia" as they were called were small groups of average civilians who banded together to defend their towns and homes. While the militia men weren't very good at standing up to regular forces, they were particularly good at hiding in the landscape and ambushing the British supply lines and small detachments of enemy troops moving from one place to another.

The occupation of highwayman began to fizzle out during the 19th century with the beginnings of mounted police patrols. Where the highwaymen had once relied on the speed and agility over various terrain thanks to their horses, police on horseback, unencumbered by bulky coaches or pedally impassable terrain, could now freely pursue the highwaymen after their attack with the same speed and agility. The possibility of a clean getaway became extremely remote, and in the end the practice was futile ( not to mention the impending punishment was death by hanging...for treason).

Check out this really cool "highwayman" hobby site:

"Whiskey In the Jar" - Metallica, 1998 (heavy metal)

~This information wasn't "hijacked"...I simply remembered what I learned in 7th grade history and 12th grade AP European History...and I borrowed a little from these folks:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"The Yellow Rose of Texas", 1836 (western folk)

There's a yellow rose of Texas
That I am going to see
No other fellow knows her
No other, only me
She cried so when I left her
It like to broke my heart
And if I ever find her
We never more will part

She's the sweetest rose of color
This soldier ever knew
Her eyes are bright as diamonds
They sparkle like the dew
You may talk about your dearest May
And sing of Rosa Lee
But the Yellow Rose of Texas
Is the only girl for me

Where the Rio Grande is flowing
And the starry skies are bright
She walks along the river
In the quiet summer night
She thinks if I remember
When we parted long ago
I promised to come back again
And never leave her so

Oh now I'm going to find her
For my heart is full of woe
And we'll sing the song together
That we sang so long ago
We'll play the banjo gaily
And we'll sing the song of yore
And the Yellow Rose of Texas
Shall be mine for ever more

**Special Note: These are not the lyrics that appear in modern versions of the song. The original lyrics were re-written to remove anything that could be considered racist.**

And now a little bit more of "unsolved history". This is one of those tunes, like the last one, that has been around so long that hardly anybody knows what it's really about or how it got started. Who was the Yellow Rose of Texas that we're still singing about??

This song is the unofficial state song of the State of Texas, and while the most famous copyrighted publication of the song is from New York, the cover of which states "Composed and Arranged Expressly for Charles H. Brown by J.K." in 1855, the tune was actually first found handwritten on a piece of paper from 1836. The next question is...what was going on in 1836 that somebody wrote a song about?

Many believe this story to be a legend, however there is much verifiable, historical data and discovery to indicate that while incidental details may be fuzzy, at least the basic story is completely true. The story actually begins in 1830 when wealthy entrepreneur James Morgan came to the geographic area we now call "Texas". Land was cheap and the west was being won by anyone who either had enough money to buy it, anyone who could fight better than another, and/or anyone who could get to it first and still manage to hold on to it. Morgan had the ability for all of that. He began forming partnerships with real estate speculators from New York with the intent of buying up the cheap land and starting a colony there. The only problem was that there was that the land did not belong to any American (to purchase it from) and that there was already a colony living there. It was owned and populated by Mexico, who did not take kindly to the idea of being ousted from their own territory.

To combat the uncooperativeness of the resident Mexicans, Morgan developed a scheme to constructively evict them ("constructive eviction" is a legal term for making the conditions of one's living or working space so unbearable that one leaves voluntarily and without confrontation). Morgan's plan was to systematically flood the region with non-Mexicans from the United States, which is exactly what he did. In 1835, he doubled his efforts by recruiting workers for his new settlement. One of those workers was an indentured servant by the name of Emily D. West.

Morgan owned a large plantation on the island of Bermuda. Historical evidence suggests that this is where Emily West was brought from. Emily West was mulatto who had extremely light colored skin despite her mixed ancestry. This gave her skin an almost white, yellowish type hue ("yellow" was the term given to all light-skinned persons of mixed race/color/ancestry until 1930 when it was removed as a descendency category on the U.S. Census). The territory of Texas had outlawed slavery, and so to get around the law, James Morgan converted all of his slaves in to 99-year indentured servants. It is believed that Emily volunteered to be indentured so that she could come to America and escape the persecution she experienced because of her mixed race.

The rest of the story goes like this: In 1836, found Texas in the middle of a war for independence from Mexico. James Morgan's new, fully operation colony, New Washington was located at the mouth of the San Jacinto River, which turned out to be a strategic military location. Morgan aided General Sam Houston and his men by providing food and supplies to them. Because of the prime location of the settlement, Houston's men could pilot their flatboats right up to Morgan's docks to be laded. Morgan's aide to Houston showed that he was a friend to Texas, and he was awarded a commission as a colonel. When Morgan went off to fight for Texas, he left Emily West in charge of the settlement and in charge of lading the military flatboats.

Mexican army commander General Santa Anna learned of New Washington's military aide operation. In an attempt to cut off this aide, he and his men stole up the San Jacinto River to capture Morgan and New Washington. To his surprise, he found a young woman lading the Texas flatboats. General Santa Anna had always thought of himself as a ladies' man, and he was immediately struck with Emily's beauty. Like any ladies' man would do (ha ha) he kidnapped Emily and her young helper named Turner. He coerced young Turner to tell him where Gen. Houston's men were camped. Before Emily's and Turner's forced removal from New Washington, Emily convinced the boy to escape. The boy ran to Gen. Houston's camp ahead of the Mexican scouts and warned the Texans of Gen. Santa Anna's impending arrival.

Even though Santa Anna was married to a woman in Mexico, he had a slight self-control problem. During his command he had also married a teenage captive from one of his Texan campaigns; however, his military duties had already separated him from her for two weeks. He felt that Emily would be an In his excitement over Emily, despite the protests of his officers, Santa Anna ordered camp to be set up on the plains of the San Jacinto River. This left the Mexican army completely open to surveillance and attack. It didn't take long for Gen. Houston to move his men to attack Santa Anna. On the morning of August 21, Houston shinnied up a tree to spy on the Mexicans. There he saw Emily West preparing a fancy breakfast for Gen. Santa Anna, and he remarked to himself, "I hope that girl makes him neglect his business and keeps him in bed all day." Houston's men immediately launched a surprise attack on the Mexican army (though not so surprising to the high brass who had warned Santa Anna about this very thing). General Santa was literally caught with his pants down, and the official military report is that Santa Anna was seen running from the heat of the battle with his silk shirt open.

Emily West survived the battle and was returned to New Washington. James Morgan had not heard about the Battle of San Jacinto. When he returned to the settlement, Emily told him all about it. He was so impressed at her heroism that he immediately repealed her indenture and granted her a passport back to New York. Even after she left, Morgan made sure everyone heard about her contribution to Texas' victory. In 1956, William Bollaert published a story which was related to him by either Sam Houston or Col. Isaac N. Moreland, who Emily worked for after the Battle of San Jacinto, of a mulatto girl who kept Santa Anna in his tent all day and prevented him from rushing to the conflict. This is the only more modern documentation which is available to historians.

"Yellow Rose of Texas" - Jo Ann Castle

~information loaded from the following: