The Iconic song with a twist
December 28, 2021
The end of December is, traditionally, a time to reflect on the year just past. No song is more associated with the ending of the year and the start of a new one than Auld Lang Syne.
It somehow seems appropriate that the origins of this poem and song are steeped in the mysteries of time. It was plucked from obscurity by Scottish poet, Robert Burns, in 1788. He set it to music and added verses which most closely approximate the song familiar to all.
The Infallible Wikipedia shares, of course, a plethora of information:
“Robert Burns sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum in 1788 with the remark, ‘The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man.’ Some of the lyrics were indeed ‘collected’ rather than composed by the poet; the ballad ‘Old Long Syne’ printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns’ later poem, and is almost certainly derived from the same ‘old song’. To quote from the first stanza of the James Watson ballad:
Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne.
On old long syne my Jo,
On old long syne,
That thou canst never once reflect,
On old long syne.
Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve very quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scots (not to mention English, Welsh and Irish people) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them.”
The song was popularized in the United States by Guy Lombardo who “is remembered for almost a half-century of New Year’s Eve big band remotes, first on radio, then on television. His orchestra played at the Roosevelt Grill in the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City from 1929 (snip) to 1959, and from then until 1976 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Live broadcasts (and later telecasts) of their performances were a large part of New Year’s celebrations across North America; millions of people watched the show with friends at house parties. Because of this popularity, Lombardo was called ‘Mr. New Year’s Eve.’”
You would have had to have been born in a cave and lived in the wilderness your entire life to never have heard the song. In December 1980, another artist came along who wrote an autobiographical song which succeeded in connecting yet another generation to the concept of remembering, with a wistful nostalgia, days and people since gone.
Dan Fogelberg’s addition came about following a chance encounter with an ex-girlfriend on Christmas Eve in 1975. They run in to each other in the grocery store and then proceed to share a six pack of beer while sitting in her car at a mini-mart. It is, I think, the very ordinariness of the encounter which juxtaposes so very well with the emotions just under the surface.
Somehow Fogelberg – who claimed to have begun the song more as a joke – ended up transforming the opening music from the 1812 Overture into a nostalgia filled classic that ends with Auld Lang Syne.
Perhaps the thing that makes the song resonate with so many people is that one recognizes – as one matures – that life is a series of binary choices. A first love, for example, is just that. A young person simply does not have the advantage of time and experience to understand that once a relationship is over it is likely to stay that way.
Fogelberg – in his song – encapsulates that moment of recognition and the emotion which comes with it:
We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how
We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time
Reliving in our eloquence
Another ‘auld lang syne’
It is, though, the final few bars of the song which stops the listener and creates the ennui associated with endings… he leaves the car to walk back to his parents’ home and the ‘snow turns in to rain.’ It is at this moment when Fogelberg uses Auld Lang Syne to such devastating effect through a soulful, blues filled saxophone rendition.
Although many regard the song as a Christmas one due to its taking place on December 24th, I’ve always thought it belonged to the last week of December when, as we take down our calendars and put up the new ones, we reflect on the year just past and remember those who are no longer with us.
So here’s a toast to Auld Lang Syne with a short verse which is one of my favorites: