Monday, March 9, 2009

Last Song: Part 2

Not everyone believes The Last Song played such an innocent part, there are historians that believe the song itself was responsible for the language coming to a sudden halt, that perhaps, use of the language was dwindling at the songs debut, but by no means about to disappear. The world itself was rife with new nations and they were all anxious to claim thing, make them official, and defend them with their lives - official religions, official seals, official flowers, and of course, official languages. The song had gained a great deal of attention for the language and many a nation probably considered it.

The basis of this theory is that the song became more popular than the actual language and thus nobody could use words from the song without singing them, much like trying to say the alphabet without singing it to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. You think having a song stuck in your head is bad now, imagine starting every conversation with, "Never gonna...". To further support this theory it has been pointed out that as long as it was, it likely contained a significant portion of commonly used words and phrases in it. No respectable nation could hope to hold its own in negotiations with a foreign country using a sing-song language. The alternate was not much better, defaulting to a foreign tongue would undermine the country's legitimacy all together. Without comment the people of the world decided to avoid the song and the language completely, so as to keep their own sanity. It is believed that by the third generation no one could even remember the song's name, but they would have know of it and generously preserved it in written form in hopes of hearing for themselves this great song that had the power to kill a language.

What follows is a brief excerpt from a musical set in the middle of a great war between nations that had both adopted the language. Its original run in France was a serious drama that moved its audiences to tears nightly, and thought that was magnificent, I have always felt that it was done best in the short lived American comical adaptation called The Land of the LOST(!)...Language.
Day, Day two-oh-oh
Day two-oh-oh and the war still go on
We sit in our trench and shoot all day-a
Day two-oh-oh and the war still go on.
Yes, you might recognize the familiar cadence of the Banana Boat Song, but this time being used as the musical framework for a letter home from the front line in one of the more gripping points of the story where the letter writer's commander has come down will a rather severe tropical disease. The author is trying to come to terms with the possibility that he is witnessing the end of this great man, and with it any hope of victory or survival. Somehow the terror the character is trying to portray doesn't manage to transcend the upbeat tune even amidst the retching in the background as the commander dies on stage in what Orville Crack famously called, "the most inappropriate use of orange juice this fine Floridian has ever seen!" Granted that particular review seemed a bit skewed by local loyalties, but, having seen a video cassette tape of the show myself, I can assure you his comment was not entirely out of line. I'm not a huge OJ drinker myself, before seeing this scene it never really fell into the refreshing beverage category, after, it doesn't even come close.

Though there are many differences between the French and American versions the one that most people dwell on is the type of music. The original French version was completely original, the writer and director went out of their way to make the music truly fit the scenes, often going so far as to match the actors movements to particular instruments. It truly was a classy show, and many nights would end without a dry eye in the house. When it came overseas the producers wanted popular songs and plenty of them, as a result they wound up with an odd mix of songs that were both loved and hated equally. The kind of popular songs that would get stuck in your head if someone were to hum a few bars. This made for a monstrously packed opening week, but by the end of the second week, not so much, by then just the mention of it could pop these songs right back into your head, and by the third week it was never to be seen on a Resume again. Which is why I think it fits so much better with the story of The Last Song, while the French version may have brought a bit of the tragic beauty that remains hidden within to the masses, the American version epitomized the tragedy of The Last Song.

Was it the curse of The Last Song as the producer claimed? That the play, like the song, was so good that it killed itself off? Could a song, in fact, be so popular and so memorable that it would supplant the natural form of speaking within a language? People often argue yes to all three, but I'm certainly not one of them. I would like to add that musicals are still made, and that if someone can make one so good as to put an end to them you'll find me in the front row, with a tall glass of OJ and really big smile.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Last Song: Part 1

The last of his kind, Death's messenger of rhyme,
took 8 clay slabs and made them divine.
A rule forced on young and envied by old,
Through his life truly lived - treasure mind, not gold.
Shared his key to such peace, tried to pass it along,
But that nugget's still hidden between verse, within The Last Song.

Theodore Ronald McNugent (no relation)
There are tales about the tale and songs about the song, but the song itself has been lost. Well, technically, we know where it is, but no one can read it, let alone sing it. It’s not rare for a writer to be mentioned in other people’s writings, as a result we know a bit more of this last scholar than of the language he used or the song itself. Lacking a known name the song is often referred to as The Last Song, likewise, the scholar's name has been lost to time, consequentially he is often referred to as The Poet of the Last Song or simply The Poet. This blog post is intended to be the first in a series where I will attempt to uncover the truth behind The Last Song through a careful analysis of the many songs and tales that have mentioned it, no matter how brief or seemingly insignificant. When you can't go to the source, seek clues among your fellow seekers.

Let's start our journey as far back as we can with Sir Wendle Dendle, a slightly mad poet who is believed to have actually lived at the same time as The Poet. Whether that's true is debatable but he certainly is responsible for one of the first references to The Last Song. In The Lariat during a reflective moment, just before all hell breaks loose, these two verses stick out:
Like the dead language song,
All love is a mystery.
With the crack of a gong,
A king’s word become history.

The Poet of Death rears his gray mottled head,
To look at the sky that’s turned gold into lead.
He praises the past and forsakes the future,
For all that has been, is lost to the teacher.
No one has ever found evidence that the rest of the song has anything to do with The Poet of our interest, so I'll spare you from the rest of his drivel. Aside from this small part it was written with the intent to woo an unattainable princess, she remained unattainable. In fact the inclusion of these two verses, and the fact that they didn't really fit with the rest of it, are what have allowed this strange ode to survive through the ages. This is worth noting because, as you will see, many of the references we have found seem to be thrown into other pieces of work almost offhandedly. Is it a strange conspiracy, a lazy writers attempt at appearing more talented by association, or does it go deeper?

Could it be that while in the midst of writers block we channel the same feelings that went into making The Last Song? After all, what better weapon to kill a language than some sort of mass writer's block? I have often looked to The Last Song and the tenacity I imagine went into making it when I've experienced writer's block myself. Just moments ago, I found myself thinking, “If this man could write something so beautiful with the knowledge that it might never be enjoyed surely I can finish this stupid blog!” and somehow found that elusive spark of creativity renewed almost as if I had been doused with a bucket of ice from a slumber.

While I would love to brag that I came up with that theory myself, many of you are probably thinking of the Tale of the Broken Clock in which we all learned that a piece of time is measured by a time piece and not ruled by it, unless we forfeit our lives to it. The main character of this tale is a boy named Lester whose father serves the town as clock maker and has been training him in the art. Though his father is an extremely talented artisan he has lost the his love of it. His father's negative attitude results in Lester developing a severe hatred toward the town and its dependence on the numbers of the clock to tell them when to do their daily duties. Although most of the story is quite dark, there is a brief reprieve late in the tale where Lester's father laments his failure to interest his son in clock making and suggests that poets are already working on first drafts of The Last Hour on the Clock. He even goes so far as to mockingly sing a few lines:
Oh woe is me,
the clock strikes three.
We must mow our lawns and sing The Last Song.
Yet it seems so soon since it struck three
The time since last just sixty… minutes… long
This brief mention of The Last Song could easily be dismissed if you forget that the person singing it is in almost the same position as The Poet. He is faced with the knowledge that he will probably be the last one to know the art of time keeping. The comparison only grows stronger at the end when this fear drives him mad and he spends his final years obsessed with making the most wonderful clock tower possible in the hopes that his son will be inspired to keep it working, at the very least as a tribute to him, if not his art. It is immediately recognized as the town's greatest achievement but shortly after his death, no doubt as he intended, it stops working. The people of the town, not knowing how to fix it, merely keep it clean in the hopes that his son Lester will one day change his mind and take his fathers place as master timekeeper.

Was there a Lester for our Poet? That is, as yet, unknown. But it could be argued that he made such a beautiful song with the hope that it would inspire others to recognize the beauty of the language and save his art. Today, we wish we could help him accomplish this goal, and maybe tomorrow we will.