Spend any time at all on Turner Classic Movies, and you’ll hear Auld Lang Syne sung by a big group of folks. They’ll sing it on New Year’s Eve, Christmas, birthdays, or just when Henry Fonda or Jimmy Stewart has a nice day. It’s everywhere in movies made before about 1950. As someone who has spent many weeks of my life plopped in front of such monochromatic relics, Auld Lang Syne probably seeped into my subconscious somewhere in college.
Everybody can hum it, and most people, I think, can fake their way through the first verse and chorus, or so a handful of New Year’s Eve parties I’ve attended lead me to believe. Somewhere in the muddle of my last ten years, I found myself interested enough to look up and vaguely translate (they were written in…what, Scottish?) Robert Burns’ original verse/lyrics, and I fell in love.
The lyrics are beautiful. This should not have been surprising to me, since as a race we are unlikely to remember garbage poetry after some two hundred years have passed. The story of the man from Nantucket notwithstanding, perhaps. But I *was* surprised.
The surprising thing to me was that once you realize what it’s saying, it’s not some schlocky, happy-crappy song about how great life is. It’s kind of a sad song, and it’s beyond me how it ever became the pop anthem of post-Prohibition cinematic joviality. But here we are. As a friend, Sean Thomason, said recently, if it’s not a little sad it just doesn’t feel true.
As I picked up my roots in my mid-20s and moved halfway across the country to a city where I knew no one, friendships that I had thought would last through anything began evaporating. Truth be told, many had been on somewhat shaky ground already. Schools and neighborhoods circumscribe lives in ways we cannot realize until after we have left them all behind. You stay in one spot physically, you’re likely to stay in one spot emotionally and relationally, as well. We don’t marry our high school sweethearts because we’ve seen the world and recognize they dwarf all other possible mates, we do it because of shared histories and familiarity.
When we walk different roads from one another, it makes sense only in retrospect that those roads would no longer intersect in such meaningful ways as they once did. But when they do once more cross, however briefly and in spite of the pain we inevitably feel when seeing ourselves as we once were in the eyes of those we once knew, here’s to the idea that we might set all of that aside, and raise a glass with one another for auld lang syne.
Here’s my version of the song.
You can download the song for free at http://music.scifiromance.net. Happy New Year, everybody.