Edelweiss über alles

On Friday I started the day with three hours of substitute-host-level Excellence in Broadcasting on America’s Number One radio show. The Mueller Report predominated, but we got to other topics as well: You can find a few moments from Open Line Good Friday here. Thank you as always to Mr Snerdley and the rest of the gang: the best team in radio, no question.

~The moronization of society proceeds apace. As we mentioned on the show, a bigshot New York Times correspondent thinks that playing “Edelweiss” at the White House is some kind of Nazi dog-whistle to Trump supporters. It is tragic and profound the way even small artifacts of our inheritance get trashed in these witless arguments, so, if you want to know the real story of the very last song in the Oscar Hammerstein catalogue, here’s what I had to say a couple of years back:

Not long after Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote the song, Theodore Bikel was leaving the theatre when he found a fan and fellow immigrant waiting at the stage door for his autograph: ‘I love that “Edelweiss”,’ said the theatregoer. ‘Of course, I have known it a long time, but only in German.’

Not for the first time, Hammerstein had done too good a job. Just as his ‘Ol’ Man River’ for Show Boat is assumed by many to be an authentic Negro spiritual, so ‘Edelweiss’ is assumed to be an authentic Austrian folk song. Not so. In both cases, a great craftsman manufactured them to solve a structural problem with the storytelling. But he did it so well that they have become for real what they were only intended to simulate. Some years ago ‘Edelweiss’ was played at the White House, at a state dinner for Austria’s President Kirschschlager, and everyone but the Austrians stood up for the national anthem. Actually, no. The current Austrian anthem is ‘Land der Berge, Land am Strome’, and the only official anthem by Rodgers & Hammerstein is their title number for their very first show, which serves as the state song of Oklahoma.

Speaking of that very first R&H show, I also mentioned on air the new revival thereof – a full-blown Woke-lahoma!, which production Terry Teachout rightly calls a travesty before wondering why the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization would ever have licensed such a thing. Likewise, I’m not sure why they would have approved the use of “Edelweiss” as the theme music of The Man in the High Tower, thereby linking it indelibly for the NYT’s Maggie Haberman and other myopic solipsists of our hyper-present-tense culture with fascism and Nazism and racial superiority. Some years ago I had a fair bit of contact with Ted Chapin, who runs R&H, and he was a prudent steward of a great legacy. Of course, back then the authors’ kids, Mary Rodgers and Bill and Jamie Hammerstein, were still around to keep an eye on things, too. I find it hard to imagine any of them agreeing to license either of the above. But times change, and they seem to figure a joyless social-justice deconstruction of Oklahoma! in which “The land we belong to is grand!” is rendered as dark, mocking Trumpist triumphalism is better than no Oklahoma! at all. Like the man says: Sad!

~On the other hand, maybe R&H have concluded that in today’s world you’re either woke or purged. The latest to be banished from public life is the great Kate Smith, the burly contralto who walloped “God Bless America” into public consciousness. Which is why until yesterday both the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Yankees played it at their games.

Unfortunately, Miss Smith made the mistake of recording other songs, too, including one called “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”, written by Ray Henderson and Lew Brown for George White’s Scandals of 1931. Her fellow singer, the hardcore Communist Paul Robeson, who happens to be black, also made a famous recording of it. Why? Because he understood it to be a sardonic number by a couple of wise-guys for a sophisticated Broadway audience on the pathetic justifications offered for southern racism. Here’s the entire lyric:

Someone had to pick the cotton
Someone had to pick the corn
Someone had to slave and be able to sing
That’s Why Darkies Were Born

Someone had to laugh at trouble
Though he was tired and worn
Had to be contented with any old thing
That’s Why Darkies Were Born

Sing, sing, sing when you’re weary
And sing when you’re blue
Sing, sing, that’s what you taught
All the white folks to do

Someone had to fight the Devil
Shout about Gabriel’s Horn
Someone had to stoke the train
That would bring God’s children to green pastures
That’s Why Darkies Were Born.

It was part of a little group of Broadway revue songs of the late Twenties and early Thirties (“Black and Blue”, “Supper Time”) prodding audiences to address a persistent and ugly aspect of American life – back when it took a certain amount of courage to do so. Eighty years later, the social-justice wankers can barely comprehend anything written before 2008. So it’s not enough that, hedged in by the ever narrowing restraints of correct attitudes, our age cannot make anything of its own; it is also necessary that the entirety of the past be erased. Hence, at top right, that ludicrous cover-up of the Kate Smith statue in Philly. As I said on Rush, she looks like the third child bride of Mullah Omar.

But that’s what pop culture is reduced to in 2019: a literal cover version of Kate Smith. Incidentally, if Miss Smith’s “God Bless America” cannot be heard because she also sang “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”, why should Bing Crosby get away with singing “White Christmas” on the all-holiday radio playlists every December? After all, in the very film where he introduced that song to the world, he also appeared in blackface!!!

So “White Christmas” should also be banned – unless, of course, Bing happens to be a Democrat Governor of Virginia.

We are in Pol Pot’s Year Zero. The demolishers (as Victor Hugo calls them in our Notre Dame Tale for Our Time) are determined to ensure there will be nothing left.

~One more: The world these totalitarians are building for us will be one without not only song but also jokes – see the “Last Laughs” section of The [Un]documented Mark Steyn. I have a huge amount of respect for the brilliant Barry Humphries – notwithstanding that years ago he left a foul-mouthed tirade on my answering machine, which utterly flummoxed me when I returned home and hit the “Play” button. Ten minutes later, he left a second message saying sweetly, “Pay no attention to my last message. Dialed the wrong number. Sorry about that.” Notwithstanding whatever that was about, Humphries’ comic creations Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson are two of the great Australian contributions to the world, and I will always treasure him for dispatching Sir Les to Bill Leak’s book launch, just thirty-six hours before Bill died.

Thirty years ago Barry Humphries helped set up the Melbourne Comedy Festival and agreed to lend his name to its most glittering prize – the Barry Humphries Award for Comedy. Alas and alack, Barry gave an interview to The Spectator, which has been declared by the new commissars of comedy to be “transphobic”. Mr Humphries feels that transgenderism is a “fashion”, and further outraged the pearl-clutchers of edgy comedy festivals by characterizing Caitlyn Jenner as a “publicity-seeking ratbag”.

So now his name has been removed from the comedy award he founded and it has been renamed the Melbourne Comedy Festival Award or something equally insipid. Edgy, hip, boundary-pushing, transgressive comedy has no place for disrespecting Caitlyn Jenner; edgy, hip, boundary-pushing, transgressive comedy is all about sticking safely to the approved script.

~It is Easter and Passover at SteynOnline and we shall have some special programming later today. Don’t forget our unusually timely Tale for Our Time, in which, after the incendiary eruptions of Holy Week, I read some pertinent parts of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Tales for Our Time is made possible through the support of members of The Mark Steyn Club, now approaching its second birthday. For more information on the club, see here.

Just a month ago we officially announced the Second Annual Mark Steyn Club Cruise, following last year’s successful maiden voyage. Cabins are going spectacularly fast – and we’re very nearly sold out. If your preferred accommodations are showing up online as unavailable, do call Cindy, our excellent cruise manager, and she might be able to pull a few strings: If you’re dialing from beyond North America, it’s +1 (770) 952-1959; if you’re calling from Canada or the US, it’s 1-800-707-1634. Or you can email your query here.