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THE MYRTLE OF VENUS [THE ORIGINAL ESSAY]
September 16th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

IT’S ‘STAY AWAY FROM SEATTLE DAY,’ according to a promotion at the downtown Borders Books. According to the in-store flyer:

“Today, the rest of the world gives our city a break from the influx of people moving to the ‘Best Place to Live’ by celebrating and honoring ‘Stay Away From Seattle Day.’ Memo to out-of-state web-masters, high-tech wizards, writers and musicians: Reschedule the U-Haul and let Seattle’s siren song tempt you another day–today the city is for those of us who are already here. Present your Washington State driver license between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and receive a free tall latte on Borders (limit one per customer, no substitution.)”

SPEAKING OF PEOPLE WHO STAYED AWAY FROM SEATTLE: Yesterday, we had some music-related fun links. Today, something only slightly more serious, involving a local guy who split town at age 18 and only came back as an occasional visitor.

Boomer-nostalgia compulsives continue to rant on about the “revolutionary” aspects of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, as this recent news feature shows.

I was to have appeared last year at a “Northwest Music” conference (canceled at the last moment), to discuss the so-called “grunge era,” right after a panel discussion that would have discussed Hendrix’s national-anthem rendition.

(Never mind the fact that Hendrix never lived in the Northwest as an adult; to the boomers he’s still Seattle’s one true claim to rock fame.)

The boomer-nostalgists apparently never learned that the tune originally was an English drinking song. “To Anacreon in Heaven” was the official song of the Sons of Anacreon, a London private club named after an eighth-century Greek poet who, in turn, wrote bawdy verses about the larger-than-life carousing of Zeus and his mythical pals.

And so, as one of the song’s original verses ended,

“While thus we agree,

Our toast let it be.

May our club flourish happy, united and free!

And long may the sons of Anacreon entwine,

The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s vine.”

Hendrix had simply re-inserted the boistrous, Bacchanalian revelry the tune had originally expressed, and did so with gusto.

Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner” lyrics were apparently specifically written to go with the tune of “To Anacreon In Heaven,” which shows the song had become popular well beyond the private club which had originally commissioned it.

But Key’s words (the official “National Anthem”) could theoretically go with any workable melody, even one amateur singers could better execute.

The theme song from Valley of the Dolls meters almost perfectly with Key’s words. I’ve tried it. Go ahead and try it yourself, in the privacy of your own homes if you must.

Then go back and read the original lyrics for “To Anacreon in Heaven.” Then sing them (you know the tune). If you’re like me, the tune sounds a helluva lot better when it’s used in the service of images of drinking, lovemaking, and other merriments than it sounds when recounting the Battle of Fort McHenry.

It’s almost enough to make you feel good about being an American again.

At least if you’re an American of British descent like me.

IN OTHER NEWS: Fortune’s list of North America’s “40 Richest Under 40” (excluding those with all-inherited wealth) includes two Seattleites, no women, and only three names not connected to the computer or Net industries (including the list’s only two Af-Ams, Michael Jordan and record producer Master P).

TOMORROW: Who’s afraid of digital movies?

ELSEWHERE:


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