As Madison Rising proves, when it comes to performance, good attitude is everything

Madison RisingI’ve been a fan of Madison Rising, a patriotic rock band, for a long time.  I don’t necessarily like all their music, because they’re pretty heavy on classic rock guitar playing, but I really like their attitude.  The band takes its solid rock chops and applies it to patriotism.  Unlike most musical groups that pretty much reflexively “harsh on” American because it’s what all the cool kids are doing, this band uses its hard rock chops to celebrate America and her many virtues.

As it happens, I love Madison Rising’s rock guitar version of the Star Spangled Banner.  This is quite an admission for me, because I tend to like my songs performed straight, without howls and yowls.  If you were going to predict my musical tastes, you’d usually guess right if you said I would prefer Bing Crosby singing our anthem over some tortured rock band version.  Nevertheless, I’ll repeat:  I love the Madison Rising Star Spangled Banner.

If you’re wondering why I’ve step out of my musical comfort zone with this one, here’s the answer:  Madison Rising’s rendition is a fresh take on our nation’s anthem, performed with enormous energy, and a great deal of love.  This is not a robotic repeat of an old song:

When I listen to Madison Rising’s version of the Star Spangled Banner, I’m reminded of Runrig’s version of Loch Lomond, Scotland’s unofficial anthem. As does Madison Rising, Runrig rocks up a traditional song (indeed, one written around the same time as the Star Spangled Banner), but the group does it with love and passion. Scottish fans are enthusiastic about the group’s version:

My point about both of these groups is that their unorthodox renditions of old favorites are done with reverence and respect.  They are intended to build up, not to tear down.  Contrast that with Roseanne Barr’s justifiably infamous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, which saw her adding crotch-clutching to melody-mangling.  Likewise, a lot of non-homophobic patriots took umbrage when Lady Gaga turned the Star Spangled Banner into a gay-themed anthem.  It was disrespectful, not because she brought her own spirit and style to the song, but because she was quite obviously denigrating the song and America as they currently exist.

I’m waffling on along these lines because at NASCAR’s opening this past weekend, both fans and racers disliked Madison Rising’s version of the Star Spangled Banner, considering its rock energy “disgraceful” and “disrespectful.” I wish I could reach out to the NASCAR crowd and let them know that there’s nothing insulting or disrespectful about Madison Rising. Whether or not you like their version, they sing it as respectful homage to a nation they love. If they can help resurrect some basic patriotism into disaffected young people who read Howard Zinn and like heavy metal and hard rock, more power to them.

Just Because Music: Runrig’s “Loch Lomond”

When we were touring Loch Lomond, our guide played this song for us.  The more I listened to this non-traditional version of Loch Lomond, the more I liked it — better than the very classic, vaguely operatic version that my father bequeathed me.  It’s rather thrilling how the energy keeps picking up as the song progresses, until it goes from ballad to march.  (And have I mentioned, about 800,000 times, that my Dad was still piped into battle during WWII, so this song meant a lot to him?)

And I know what it reminds me of stylistically:

Loch Lomond, the Trossachs, and Stirling Castle (comments are on now)

Today’s port was Greenock, which is the gateway, not only to Glasgow, but also to Loch Lomond, the Trossachs (a national park area), and Stirling Castle. We mostly skirted Glasgow, and went straight for the pretty stuff.

The driver/guide on out tour was a chatty fellow who knew his history and had a large number of musical selections he’d gathered together to play as background music for the various points of interest. It took me aback at first, but then he played so many recordings I liked that I started writing down the bands’ names. As much as I liked the music, I also liked his attitude, which was to try to make the experience as rich as possible.

When we went to Loch Lomond, most of which was invisible due to rain and mist, our guide not only played “Loch Lomond” for us, he told us the story behind the song. According to our guide, the song’s lyrics date back to the Jacobite uprisings that came to a bitter, bloody end in 1745/1746.

During the war, he said, two Scottish soldiers who had ended up in England were trying to make their way home again. Unluckily for them, they were caught. The British gave a particularly cruel order — one was to die, and one to be released, with the soldiers themselves responsible for making the choice. They drew straws, and the man who drew the short straw wrote a farewell note to his companion in arms:

You take the high road (i.e., you walk upon the earth),
And I’ll take the low road (i.e., I’ll be buried in the ground),
And I’ll get to Scotland before you (i.e., spirits travel fast).
But me and my true love will never meet again on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

If the guide’s story is true, it’s a very sad song . . . but a very beautiful one too.

The guide also told us that Scotland’s unofficial national anthem is “Flower of Scotland,” which was written in 1967 to commemorate the Scottish victory over Edward II’s English forces at Bannockburn in 1314. (The official anthem, of course, is “God Save the Queen.”) As you can see, it’s scarcely a celebratory song, as it mourns the loss of Scottish greatness, and vaguely hopes that Scotland can rise again:

1. O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see
Your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen.
And stood against him,
Proud Edward’s army,
And sent him homeward
To think again.
2. The hills are bare now,
And autumn leaves
Lie thick and still
O’er land that is lost now,
Which those so dearly held
That stood against him,
Proud Edward’s army
And sent him homeward
To think again.
3. Those days are past now
And in the past
They must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again!
That stood against him
Proud Edward’s army
And sent him homeward
To think again.
4. O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see
Your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen.
And stood against him,
Proud Edward’s army,
And sent him homeward
To think again.

There are many voices that think that the buoyant “Scotland the Brave” would be a more suitable unofficial anthem. I have to say that, speaking of anthems qua anthems, “Scotland the Brave” is more suitable. But in terms of modern day Scotland, there’s a lot to be said for a vaguely mournful dirge. I won’t repeat what I said in yesterday’s email about Scotland’s antisemitism, but you just can’t see a brilliant future for a country that’s dependent on oil, sheep, and the welfare state.

Before I get more into what we saw today, I have to admit to being massively conflicted about Scotland particularly and the UK generally. Whenever I’m in these places, I feel as if I’m where I belong. I love the look of the places, the sound (I really like Celtic music), the art, the history, the accents, and the ordinary people I meet on the street. I even like the way these places smell. Whether I’m in Scotland or a Wales or the English countryside, there’s this indefinable green, flowery, fresh smell that I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

Having said that, I hate the fact that the UK has flooded itself with Muslims, raising the strong possibility of a majority population that has values antithetical to everything that is British; I hate the way the welfare state has leached away British values and backbone; and I hate the ascendency of anti-Israel and antisemitic feelings throughout the whole of the UK (and Ireland too).

The UK, from Scotland on down, fundamentally lacks vitality. All of this means that, when I’m walking around glorying in a place that feels like my spiritual and aesthetic home, I can’t decide whether I’m the equivalent of someone foolishly in love with a dying consumptive (very Bronte-ish) or if I’m the equivalent of someone even more foolishly in love with a wife-beater — and I’m the wife.

But back to today’s tour….

From Loch Lomond, we made a rest stop at a tourist trap, except that it turned out to be a tourist trap with a difference. All around the building there were sheep, lots and lots of sheep. And ducks and miniature ponies. Despite the rain, we were charmed with the animals.

It got better when a sheep farmer from Lombardy who is studying sheep stuff in England (and I’ve completely forgotten the scientific term for “studying sheep stuff”) did a herding demonstration with his border collie, a former world herding champion. There are few things funnier than watching a border collie effortlessly herding a quacking, flapping group of ducks hither and yon.

If you’re a fan of the movie “Babe,” you probably remember that, at the end, when Babe the pig has proven his herding abilities, the farmer says to Babe “That’ll do, pig, that’ll do.” It turns out that “That’ll do” is the universal herder command to these border collies. Absent that order, they’ll never stop herding until they or the animals they’re herding drop from exhaustion.

From sheep, we wended our way through the beautiful Trossachs, Scotland’s first national park. The Trossachs are like a microcosm of the best of Scottish nature: meadows, mountains, forests, ferns, heather, sheep, cows, and wild flowers, especially fireweed, a brilliant purple flower that brightens the landscape.

I’ve always heard that the Inuits have more than 20 words for snow, since its so omnipresent in their lives. I have to believe that the Scots must have at least that many words for green. I’m sure I counted 20 or more different shades of green as we drove through the countryside. Additionally, Scotland has more than 31,000 lakes, and we were lucky enough to see at least a few as we drove by.

Our ultimate destination was Stirling Castle, a renaissance castle that James V, father to Mary, Queen of Scots, built when he married the French Mary of Guise. After the 18th century debacle that was the Jacobin uprising, the British turned the castle into a military base. That means that the castle’s interior was stripped of every sign that it was ever a royal castle and it suffered some hard usage along the way.

The Scottish agency charged with historic sites decided to do something interesting, since the castle was a mere shell. It spent ten years and millions of dollars recreating what the interior would have looked like when it was just built.

When Stirling was officially reopened in 2011, it had undergone a second renaissance. Its walls are hung with tapestries, the ceilings are painted with brilliant colors, and the gray stones have been smoothly plastered — all of which would have been the case during its heyday.

The tapestries are actually a work in progress, as the Trust is using original weaving techniques to create identical copies of the “Hunt for the Unicorn” tapestries currently on display at the Met in New York. Well, not precisely identical. Rather than being faded, as the originals are, these copies are in the vibrant colors the original tapestries once boasted.

From Stirling, we abandoned country roads and took the motorway back to the ship. This drive took us through Glasgow.

In my mind’s eye, Glasgow is frozen in the 70s — a broken-down Victorian city. Although I saw only a little of it from the motorway, I might want to revise my viewpoint. There were many Victorian buildings, but most looked renovated. There was also also sorts of modern buildings, including high(ish) rises, that were obviously built within the last 20 years. It brought home the fact that, while Edinburg is the capital, Glasgow is Scotland’s biggest city.

Tomorrow, on to Dublin. No tour tomorrow, so we’ll have a longer, albeit less structured day. I’m looking forward to visiting a city that has so much Georgian architecture. I like that look. I’m also looking forward to hearing a lot of Irish accents. The Celtic accents — Irish, Welsh, and Scottish — fall pleasantly on my ears.