"Auld Lang Syne"

Peggy Noonan has a nice piece up for the new year celebration:

You know exactly when you’ll hear it, and you probably won’t hear it again for a year. The big clock will hit 11:59:50, the countdown will begin—10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4—and the sounds will rise: the party horns, fireworks and shouts of “Happy New Year!”

And then they’ll play that song: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne?”

I know everyone sings it and hardly anyone knows what it means. I do sing it, quietly to myself, every year, and each time it makes me sad, because of Vaughn Meader.

Do you remember the old “First Family” album by Meader? I listened to it endlessly as a kid, and it was where I first heard Auld Lang Syne; Jack Kennedy singing “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind…”

Then he invites Jackie in for the next line, which she coos in breathless finishing school fashion, followed by Caroline, belting it out. Kennedy urges a big finish, sung “with vigah”

I hear it all perfectly in my memory, and each time I do I am stung with such sadness, for many reasons: because it wasn’t so very long ago that such gentle, innocent satire could be so well-received; because we once truly loved our illusions and our leadership, even if they were one and the same; because I don’t know if America will ever get over that assassination and how it seemed to shatter our young nation’s sense of itself, and its promise.

In 1963, our youthful democracy held that illusion common to all youth, of invincibility, boundless energy, impossible dreams. We are so far from all of that, now. It has been replaced with cynicism, and doubt, and bitter distrust, and kneejerk spite, and division, and a mentality that finds little value in transcendence, or in believing in anything greater than oneself.

Oh boy, yes. Old Lang Syne makes me sad.

Buster is home from college right now, and a couple of his friends from school are also visiting. They’ll be taking mass transit into Times Square tonight, to watch the ball drop. They probably won’t sing the song, because they don’t really know it. They’re all nice young men, but there is about them a sense of things slightly out-of-focus; they are getting the all-important degrees they’ve been told they must have, but they hold only vague notions of what they’d like to do with their lives; there is a sense among them that the great buildings and engineering feats of the past are over; that an era in which economic ruin and food shortages are considered preferable to vigorous agricultural commerce is an era where dreams and innovation seem pointless.

None of them are acquainted with the wide-awake America that seemed destined to move eternally forward in energetic, bright hope.

The dreamer needs a horizon to gaze at, and currently our horizons are cluttered with instrumentation, diversions, media and a government grown gargantuan. It all blocks the view.

Perhaps there is a link there,
between young people who are not sure what they should be doing next–but who know they don’t simply want to fall in line–and the lack of a living, real-time narrative that says “go forth with vigor.”

Can we recapture it? The thrust of narrative is always forward, not back. Lost innocences are not recaptured, and heydays are only heydays once. There is no “going back,” there is only living with mistakes, making adjustments and setting forth once more, a little sadder and a little wiser. But with all the vigor we can muster.

We who have been acquainted with that past national narrative, however, we’ll have something to sing about, tonight.

UPDATE: Happy New Year!

UPDATE II: Trifecta names its official person of the year

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About Elizabeth Scalia