the Battle of New Orleans

#669: Censor This!

GETTING MORE TALE #669: Censor This!

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 219: Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics

Grade 13, otherwise known as our “OAC” (Ontario Academic Credit) year, was critical.  They don’t have grade 13 anymore, which is a real shame.  Some of the best courses were in that year.  I worked my tail off, and got accepted into Wilfrid Laurier University’s History program.  That’s why today, I try and mix music and history together in many of my articles.  You’ve read about Billy the Kid and the real wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald here, all within the context of songs.  It’s what I enjoy; it’s what I do.

Some of my friends were taking some serious math courses, to enter Computer Science at the University of Waterloo.  Those guys worked diligently and I barely saw them all year.  I worked hard too, but my courses weren’t like theirs.  I had two maths (Algebra and Finite) and three courses in the arts:  American/Canadian History, Sociology, and English.  All three courses required a major project called an “independent study”.  And me being me, I worked music into each.

These were massive projects.  An entire term was spent working on them.  Because I had so many arts credits, I had more than the average independent study to complete.  By sheer bad luck, all three of them were due in the same week.  All three also involved a full one-hour presentation.  I busted my ass and delivered the goods, in my own unique way.

First was American and Canadian history, which was easily the most intense of the independent studies.  I chose to do the War of 1812, which I thought I’d never get because everybody would want to do it.  Wrong!  Nobody else picked it; it was all mine.  My goal was to research books by Canadian and American authors, and compare and contrast their perspectives on the war.  It was a very enlightening experience.  Do you know how hard it is to find a book written by an American author on the War of 1812?  Back then, virtually impossible.  I had to resort to American history books on broader subjects.  Meanwhile, Canadian books were numerous.  For example I used one by noted historian Pierre Burton.

This disparity made it clear how differently the two nations viewed the war.  Americans didn’t spend much time thinking about it, while Canadians were eager to boast that it was us who beat the Yankees (more accurately, the British empire beat them) and burned down the White House (that was pretty much us Canucks*).  American authors barely mention the war, but don’t consider it a loss.  They tended to focus instead of the Battle of New Orleans.  This battle took place after the war had officially ended, but because it was an American victory, it was celebrated.

I illustrated this in song.  Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans” was enjoyed by the classroom, but the point was, it demonstrates how important this one battle was to America, in context of their conflicts with the Brits.  Canadians would rather talk about our fiery misadventures at the White House.

I prepared intensely for the presentation.  The essay portion was done, so I rehearsed the spoken part several times to get the timing just right.  You had to leave time at the end for questions.  That was another challenge:  you couldn’t prepare for the class questions at the end!  You had to know your stuff and be able to answer things off the cuff, which I did.  A+!  Thanks, Johnny Horton, for all your help and inspiration!

Admittedly, I didn’t put as much effort into the English independent study. I rolled with what I knew best, which was music. For my project I did “Lyrics and Poems on War”. The Gulf War was on, and it was topical. For the presentation portion, I wore a shirt with a picture of Elvis Presley on a tank. It said “Iran, Iraq, I roll”. I hated that shirt; it was a gift from my dad, but it was actually perfect for that day. Some of the lyrics I used were Guns N’ Roses (“Civil War”), Sammy Hagar (“V.O.A.”), Queensryche (“Surgical Strike”) and Iron Maiden (several including “Tailgunner”). I got an OK grade on that one. Considering my work load, I was glad just to have completed it.

For Sociology, I chose censorship as my subject. I knew this would be easy for me to do. Finding books and articles on the subject was easy, but I had an ace in the hole. I had amassed a huge collection of video interviews with rock stars, and many were on the subject of censorship. I didn’t take the easy route; I worked very hard. The only advantage I had was access to my own library, which was extensive, and I knew where every single quote was that I needed.

I put together a video tape with all the censorship related interviews: Blackie Lawless, Bruce Dickinson, Dee Snider, Alice Cooper, and Gene Simmons among many.  I also used the words of Frank Zappa and George Bernard Shaw. My stance was clearly anti-censorship.

By coincidence, the Sociology teacher was also my History teacher from the prior presentation. In a way that made things easier. She was an amazing teacher and part of the project involved sitting down with her every step of the way. I had to do a proposal for each of the projects, and check-ins as things progressed. This is all normal at the University level, but for highschool, it was all new to me. It enabled her to get to know me a bit better and guide me to better results.

One of the things I wanted to do in the presentation was show the class some album covers that had been banned.  I learned from one of the interviews that Scorpions covers were routinely banned.  In one of our consultations, I showed the teacher the two banned covers.  I figured there was no way she would let me use Lovedrive.  A woman’s breast is partly exposed with a man’s bubble gum all over it.  Love at First Sting is a rather sexy shot of a woman getting a thigh tattoo.  You can see some sideboob,  but to me it seemed less dirty.

To my surprise, she chose Lovedrive and said “no” to Love at First Sting.  I don’t know if it was the tattoo or the sideboob, but she was clear that I couldn’t use it.

I can’t explain what came over me next.  As I rehearsed the presentation the night before, I decided to use both anyway.  I didn’t have any other banned album covers that I could use.  I didn’t want to present Appetite for Destruction to the class because it’s just a little rape-y.  I just didn’t think Love at First Sting was that bad, and I didn’t have anything else to replace it with.  I wanted to have more than just one example of a banned cover.

So, I defied my own censor, and used both.  As I handed out the album covers for the class to look at, I caught my teacher’s glance.  Not pleased!  But she said nothing.

I nailed that presentation.  It was another “A”, but she did speak to me afterwards.  “You used it anyway!” she said, but I had already won.  She knew I did a great job so she didn’t penalize me.

Was I ever glad when that week was over.  I worked so hard; I had a little schedule in my locker to make sure I kept on top of everything.  I remember walking out of the final presentation, tired but feeling so good.  There was only one girl who was in all three of those classes.  She came up afterwards and asked, “Didn’t you do two other presentations this week?”  I sure did!  I admitted that I chose subjects that I was knowledgeable about, but that didn’t mean I didn’t sink many many hours into it.

One of my friends didn’t have it so easy.  Danesh was concentrating on his math courses, but English was compulsory for everyone.  He chose to do his independent study on Milton’s Paradise Lost.  He studied it meticulously and wrote an essay so professional that he was pulled out of class one day and accused of plagiarism.  He had to defend his essay, for hours, in front of the entire sceptical English department.  All of his friends knew he wasn’t a cheat.  He was just gifted.  The constant meetings with the English department absolutely tapped him out.  What they did to him was unfair and we all knew it.  There were some pretty scathing things said about the English department in the underground school newspaper, which I may or may not have had anything to do with.**  In the end they declined to give him an F, but instead gave him a “no report”.  And they were 100% in the wrong.***

It wasn’t a pleasant note on which to end highschool for us.  At least I was able to give myself a little bit of a rock and roll ending!

 

* My biased Canadian opinion.

** I co-wrote a new version of MacBeth, in Shakespearean English, with Danesh as the hero, all the teachers as villains, and myself as his hotshot pilot sidekick Guitar Solo.  I still have it.  

*** I don’t know if race was a factor or not, but Danesh was a quiet, dark-skinned Guyanese kid.  The teachers were all white, and our teacher that year was actually a fill-in.  He didn’t know Danesh at all.

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REVIEW: Johnny Horton – Battle of New Orleans (1981/1990)

JOHNNY HORTON – Battle of New Orleans (1981/1990 CBS Select)

I grew up with my father’s cassette of this compilation album, which only had the first eight songs.  Each one was a keeper, and we rarely skipped any songs (though side one was stronger than side two).  We played that tape every Saturday night in the car, when we were up at the cottage.  When it was released on CD in 1990, it was expanded to 12 tracks of Johnny Horton’s greatest hits.

The banjo and marching drums of “The Battle of New Orleans” set the stage for an irresistible tune.  I used it myself for a highschool project on the War of 1812.  I learned that many Canadian historians do not consider the Battle of New Orleans to have been a part of the War of 1812, since it was a raid that took place after the Treaty of Ghent was signed.  When reading American historical accounts of the war, I discovered that they included New Orleans in their books.  Why?  Because it was one of the few decisive American victories in that war, which is considered by Canucks to have been won by us and the British Empire.  Neither here nor there:  This song is unforgettable musically and lyrically.

Yeah, they ran through the briars,
And they ran through the brambles,
And they ran through the bushes,
Where a rabbit couldn’t go.
They ran so fast,
That the hounds couldn’t catch ’em,
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

The British retreat enabled the United States to put a happy ending to their part in this war of empires.

The marching drums return for “Sink the Bismarck”, another story of history and victory, this time the Second World War.  The Bismarck was the biggest battleship the world had seen yet, and when it sunk the British ship the Hood, the Royal Navy went in pursuit.

We’ll find that German battleship that’s makin’ such a fuss,
We gotta sink the Bismarck ’cause the world depends on us,
Hit the decks a-runnin’ boys and spin those guns around,
When we find the Bismarck we gotta cut her down.

The song is ambiguous about how the ship went down.  Filmmaker James Cameron and experts discovered that after a British torpedo (fired from a Swordfish biplane) damaged the ship’s rudder (jamming it and rendering it useless), the Bismarck was scuttled by her own crew.

The Great Sioux War of 1876 is the setting for “Comanche (The Brave Horse)”.  Comanche was one of only three American horses to be given a full military funeral.  Johnny does the horse proud with a sad but beautiful tune and minimal accompaniment.

Picking up the tempo, “Honky Tonk Man” is purely fun.  When I think of country music, it sounds like “Honky Tonk Man”.  I remember flipping the tape here as a kid, and hitting play on side two.  “North to Alaska” tells of the gold rush with a catchy tune, but not quite as good as to those on side one.  “Whispering Pines” is a pretty ballad that we didn’t have patience for as kids, but is a flawless song for grown ups.  Marching drums and banjo returns as we visit the Civil War.  “Johnny Reb” is a symbol of the south, a controversial subject in 2017, but a good song regardless.  Our childhood cassette copy ended with “Rock Island Line”, a fun fast-talkin’ song performed live.

Four more songs included on the CD act like a “third side”, all a little less familiar.  “When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s 40 Below)” is a actually ballad of love and murder.  “All Grown Up” is a rock and roll tune, and unfortunately a skipper.  “Sleepy Eyed John” is back to banjos and better for it.  “I’m a One Woman Man” is a fine song to end the CD on, upbeat and easy to remember.

There are a few different Johnny Horton hits CDs to choose from, but for nostalgia and quality, Battle of New Orleans is still recommended.

4/5 stars