The Fourth, Revisited

Those of you who haven’t visited the site much probably won’t know about my two “big” Independence Day posts. I thought I’d reprise them today:

  • The first, from 2008, appeared just a few months after I’d started this blog. The subject, in those innocent times a few months before Barack Obama was elected: certain similarities between the political atmosphere then, and the counterpart in 1776… as represented by a selection from the Broadway musical, 1776. The song: “Cool, Cool Considerate Men.” (Just the few lyrics excerpts there should be enough to convince you that not a whole lot has changed since then — at least, not for the better.) On a trivia note: this was the first RAMH post to include a little audio-player thingumabob for embedding music in a blog entry.
  • The second, from 2012, melded a bit of personal history about patriotic parades with some background information about the marches of John Philip Sousa. By that time, as you will see, I’d gotten over all shyness about incorporating music in my posts.

…and of course, if you’re so inclined, feel free to visit my post of a few hours ago. It, too, has some things to say about the occasion celebrated in the US today. Sorry, no music for that one.

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Midweek Music Break: The Eyes of War, the Marches of John Philip Sousa

[Image: the Jersey Joes, on parade (somewhere) in the 1940s-50s. Twenty years ago, I’d have said this was too blurry or grainy. Now, I think it’s just about perfect.]

You could hear them for a full minute before they came into sight. A couple of blocks away, still, the horns sounded a little tinny; the drums were a muted, basso sort of approaching rumble. As they got nearer, each breath of the brass grew both fuller and more pointed, and you could hear not just the rattle of the snare drums’ skins but the slight ticky-ticky-tick of the sticks against the chrome or stainless-steel rims…

…and then they were there, suddenly.

You’d read (so you thought) all about The War, and you’d seen the movies and TV shows about it. You knew what they looked like in their service garb back then — ten, fifteen, twenty years before: rumpled khaki or olive uniforms, the helmets dirty dinged and battered and maybe camouflage-netted or even bullet-holed, the boots like something you’d see on a dirt farmer’s feet, their hands grimy, their chins unshaven, maybe a smear of grease or mud or something worse (the photos were all black-and-white) across a cheek or forehead, their eyes the eyes of men who’d never stop wincing at the sound of a backfire. You could trace a direct line to their old uniforms from the uniforms of the Revolutionary War marchers in that Spirit of ’76 painting.

And you’d seen them as they looked since then, too, still in uniforms perhaps (but with the logos of gasoline retailers, grocery-store chains, public utilities and bus companies swapped in for the medals and insigniae of rank), still with the smear of grease across a corner of their faces, weekend Budweisers clenched in the hands which once gripped rifles, wrenches, binoculars, and maps.

All of which made their transformation on  this muggy South Jersey July morning remarkable: crisp black cotton uniforms; brilliant black boots with white laces; white helmet liners; white gloves; clean and clean-shaven faces; and a distant look in their eyes… These uniforms had nothing to do with the Spirit of ’76 guys’ clothes, but these eyes came straight from those faces.

And always, always with the music, pounding, rattling the windows of the stores as they passed, vibrating through the soles of your feet, and making it impossible to remain seated on the curb.

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