I've just finished reading Death Sentence by Don Watson. In it he decries the decline of public language--the language used by politicians, governments and large corporations in talking to (it could hardly be called talking with) the public and how that is affecting our own language. I found the first chapter tiresome, where he was ranting about the slow strangulation of public language. Save that for your blog. :) (I admit I found that chapter depressing because I'm mired in public language myself and sometimes expected to write in it.)
But the chapter on Australian history moved me. Not because of the stirring events in our past but because of how the lack of them meant we didn't have the rich stream of oratory to drink from that the Americans did and then how it was revived and mythologised in popular culture:
Australia's native language bloomed in late-nineteenth-century popular literature, but it was not recast and regenerated in Australia as it was in America by film and music. Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael and George Gershwin seemed to take as much pleasure in their mastery of language as they did in the genius of their music. Australians, like the rest of the world, took pleasure in it too. To that extent the tin-pan alley lyrics belonged to the world, but they came from American life and were as purely American as the choreography of the frontier in a Hollywood western, or of a street in an American noir film. When Fred Astaire and Judy Garland sang 'Walk Down the Avenue' it could be no avenue but a New York avenue, and when Billie Holiday sang 'The Man I Love', the man who would one day come along could only be American.(Interestingly enough, the man who did eventually come along turned out to be American.)
And it shows even in our respective national anthems:
|Advance Australia Fair||The Star-Spangled Banner|
|Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free
We've golden soil and wealth for toil
Our home is girt by sea
|Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,|
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
(Do you get goosebumps from those few lines just like I do?) Even if I get death threats from self-proclaimed patriots for saying so, our anthem is dry and dull by comparison. (Mr Watson correctly notes that "few surpass [it] for passivity, monotony and banality.") Maybe this goes some way to explaining why America is such a magical place for me, why it has burrowed so deep into my psyche. For as much as I love Australia and call it "home" (that most magical of words) a part of me will always yearn for the star spangled banner. At AC, when we furries celebrate the the 4th of July, I will be among the proudest.