"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

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.zazzle.com/shanasfo shana

    Can we recapture it? 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.

    I suppose in a very literal sense, that may be true, yet the world has seen upheavals before and returned to a new state of innocence about the populace later. Think of the solemn, sorrowful era of WWI, but the optimism and carefree years of the Roarin’ Twenties that follows. Those then suffer the losses of the Great Depression and the following Roosevelt Recession. And then come the utter nightmare horrors of WWII – and up again to the baby boom and the optimistic 1950′s.

    It is a cycle that we’ve had over and over, throughout all human history, except sometimes it is a very, very long cycle. One generation dies out in the shallows, sometimes two or three, and their children and grandchildren or even further down in history, these ride the next high tide.

    Yes, things go very wrong, and few signs show this current mess will be cleaned up any time soon. It may be heading deeper into the worst we’ve yet to imagine. All humans do stupid things, especially when they have it too good, as is seen in history over and over, and sometimes their children have to suffer ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ in one definition or another.

    But while we almost never recapture ‘our innocence’ in our going forward, there will be others who come along who may find their innocence in their going forward.


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  • Jeff

    I thought I was the only one of my generation who knew that Vaughn Meader album. I listened to a lot growing up, as my father was a big JFK fan. I found it hilarious and yes I remember the “with vigah” line. So funny.

  • Elaine S.

    If I remember correctly, Vaughn Meader passed away several years ago, and his obituaries noted that his career as a comedian pretty much came to an end after the JFK assassination, because he was so closely identified with “The First Family”. That’s unfortunate, because it helps to be reminded that JFK and Jackie were not always, the idealized political king and queen of “Camelot”, but real people with real idiosyncrasies who surely enjoyed a good laugh at their own expense once in a while.

  • Maureen

    Huh. Never heard of it. I’m kinda startled, since I thought I had a good handle on early Sixties comedy. Maybe Dr. Demento didn’t play this guy.

    Of course, my Dad’s record collection wouldn’t have included this, even if he hadn’t been away in the Army during most of the early Kennedy administration. He was a Republican, and he didn’t have much good to say about Kennedy’s dad. (After hearing about how Kennedy Sr. as RKO guy tried to threaten Hollywood’s moguls (including the Jewish ones!) not to say bad things about the Nazis, I have to say that Dad was being kindly.)

    There’s something genial about a lot of that early Sixties comedy. In the end, they want everybody to go home feeling they’d enjoyed themselves, and that the whole audience was welcome and respected.

  • CV

    This is my all-time favorite version of Auld Lange Syne, a lovely rendition by Scottish singer Mairi Campbell:


    Here’s another very different version, by the wonderful a capella group Straight No Chaser (you have to watch a short ad first):


    Happy New Year everyone!

  • CV

    OK, just one more. I love the ending of the movie When Harry Met Sally (always makes me choke up).

    When they start playing Auld Lange Syne, Billy Crystal says “what does this song mean? My whole life I don’t know what this song means!”:


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  • Foolish Mortal

    Thank you CV for posting that link for Mairi Campbell’s version of “Auld Lang Syne”. It is so beautiful and is now MY all-time favorite version!

    Happy New Year all!

  • http://sisu.typepad.com Sissy Willis

    I totally love Shana’s comments. Here are my two-cents’ worth, as I have also twittered you:

    Not so sure about lost innocence. TeaParty/Constitutional Conservative groundswell feels like a third (or is it fourth?) Great Awakening!

  • http://www.thedonovan.com/the_farm Beth Donovan

    I remember listening to that comedy album over and over also… with vigor!

    Thanks for the reminder. Oh, and I’m the optimist of our family, I’m firmly convinced we will come out of this better than ever, even though it is a horrible, awful road in the meantime.

    Prayer is a wonderful thing. It works. I have seen it happen over and over again. We are not alone.

    Have a wonderful New Year!

  • elizabethk

    Happy New Year with “VIGAH!” It’s always been a song I have sung along with, not knowing all the words — or meaning, but the basics…

    I hate to nitpick on this posting though — but is not your nostalgic enthusiasm for what was *promised* during the time of Kennedy (a nominal Catholic) – a bit like those who had thought there was hope in voting for Obama? I personally think we put too much stock in our Presidents, and do not do enough as individuals.

    I just get weary of the 60′s talk of how it was and then shattered upon his death (which indeed was tragic!!) — I see it (and feel it) as such a messy time in American history. What was really learned or gained — how does it profit (not financially) us now…

    [No, I don't think my rueful nostalgia is similar to the "hope" of the Obama voters, who I don't think even knew what it was they were supposed to be "hopeful" for - for that matter I don't think it is in-line with the goal of some tea partiers who seem to think they can actually turn time around and make it 1983 again. I'm wistful for an era that had its share of illusions, but at least those illusions spurred us forward and contained germs of common civility, manners, a "way things are done" as opposed to "do your own thing." I am not '60's nostalgic. I frankly hated the '60's, from about 1966 onward (I was very young, but on some level, I understood upheaval that seemed premised on falsehoods) It was a messy time, but a few things that came of the mess--like the civil rights movement--were good things. Right now things feel messy, but I don't get a sense of "good" things growing from all of it. -admin]

  • dymphna

    I don’ t know about JFK but Jackie loathed Vaughn Meader.

  • Elaine S.

    It seems that Vaughn Meader himself was one of those auld acquaintances that the world sadly forgot once his 15 minutes of fame were over:


  • Aimee

    I hear what you’re saying about common civility. I see it mainly in the field of entertainment–there’s a kindliness and a respect for the innocence of others, even if one did not possess that sense oneself, that simply does not exist today.

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  • Terrye

    I was curious about the meaning of auld lange syne myself and looked it up. I had no idea it was so old.

    I think New Years has lost something over the years. I hope it comes back.

  • http://www.zealforyourhouseconsumesme.com gtb

    Since I graduated from high school in 1968, I’m with you on wondering at the rootlessness of many (not all) young people.

    Also, this blog has a nice translation of Auld Lang Syne: link