Thursday, January 1, 2015

Auld Ang Syne

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for January is called, "Attack Ads." I hope listeners know me enough to recognize that this is not simply a send-up of our political system.  Nor is it a style-parody of songs that mimic political farces. Rather, it is a lyrical pasquinade that deconstructs the recipe for lampooning pastiches that impersonate parodies of political spoofs. In other words, it is a Gobstopper of satire, with so many layers that no one is cultured enough to appreciate it on the level it was intended.

Conversely, the most popular songs in the English language have only one layer. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, and they are:

1. Happy Birthday To You
2. For He's a Jolly Good Fellow
3. Auld Ang Syne

One cannot mention these three songs without, in the same breath, discussing their discrepancies in copyright status. Warner Communications claims that it holds all rights to "Happy Birthday To You" until 2030. As a result, a live performance of this song costs $700 in royalties, and inclusion of the song in a movie costs $10,000. Thus, birthday parties in film often culminate with a sing-along of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," a song that is so asinine that no one has confessed to any part of its authorship.

"Auld Ang Syne" is also in the public domain, and thus free. It notable for being the third most popular English language song, despite the fact that it clearly is not in English. The lyrics were written by the Scottish military leader, William Wallace, of "Braveheart" fame. In 1305, King Edward found Wallace guilty of violating a number of intellectual property laws and sentenced him to public disembowelment. Witnesses to the execution transcribed the nonsensical Scottish interjections that Wallace mumbled during his disembowelment, and later cobbled them together to make the lyrics to "Auld Ang Syne."

According to legend, as his final intestine was removed, Wallace shouted, "I immediately revoke all personal or corporate rights to this song or any derivative thereof, pronounce it to be forthwith in the intellectual commons, will seek neither injunctions nor monetary damages, and without duress grant freedom to all parties for its reproduction for any purpose in perpetuity!!!"

This, of course, is the remarkable quote for which William Wallace is best remembered. It is carved into the cornerstone of Edinburgh City Chambers. Scottish children recite it each morning before class, and again whenever someone sneezes. In the filming of "Braveheart," Mel Gibson screamed the whole line with Oscar-winning intensity during the disembowelment scene. Unfortunately, the theatrical release was already pushing three hours, so the editors trimmed it down to, "Freedom!"

That Mr. Wallace sacrificed his viscera to promote the free use of "Auld Ang Syne" only throws into sharp relief the greed of a music industry that would do anything to enforce their dubious rights to the birthday song. Marilyn Monroe famously sang "Happy Birthday to You" to John F. Kennedy, and refused to pay the $700 to Warner Communications. Where was she three months later? Dead of mysterious causes! (Quite possibly public disembowelment.)

That is why my wife and I have come to regret choosing the song, "Happy Birthday to You" as our safe word. Yes, it's sixteen words, and it's not always easy to carry a tune when someone is firing a squirt gun full of hot wax at your forehead. But the main reason I rarely use it is that I'm too much of a cheapskate. Who wants to forfeit $700 in royalties just to avoid a few stiletto marks on the lower back?

Or, um, $10,000 for that one time?

With warmest regards,