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Every book has a story
Every book has a story.

Check in frequently to read the behind-the-scenes scoop on the Newberry’s popular Book Fair. The blog is maintained by “Uncle Blogsy,” otherwise known as Dan Crawford, Book Fair Manager.

Tunes of the Times

I’m not positive which upcoming holiday this ties into, but it’s either Armistice Day or Halloween. Halloween may have a slight edge, since it involves sheet music. (That was just the ghost of a joke, but you should take it in the spirit intended.)

One piece of sheet music everybody seems to have preserved is George M. Cohan’s “Over There!”, the theme song of the U.S. effort during World War I. There were several different cover illustrations, but almost any edition from 1917 or 1918 is now iconic. It is NOT wildly valuable, particularly inasmuch as just about any Cohan song got performed so much that most copies are now held together by pins, paper clips, or very brown tape. However, a good copy, especially with one of the soldier covers, can run over twenty bucks if you find a buyer.

The Newberry is fielding a presentation on World War I music on the thirtieth, involving some pieces of music which are on display but also other hits of the war years. When this was announced, I was a little startled to find I was the only person who seemed to be excited about it.

“But World War I songs were a major nostalgia craze when I was a kid!” I complained.

“Yeah, but that was just seven years after the war,” replied somebody whose body will never be found.

“But if you don’t know your World War I songs, you’re missing the references in ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!’” I wailed.

I got a blank look. I know the networks have shredded all the old Peanuts specials so as to fit in more commercials, but surely at some point, you must have seen the unedited version, with its World War I flying ace episode. After Snoopy has inevitably been shot down by the Red Baron, he must daringly return through enemy lines, traveling by moonlight and taking shelter in a large damaged French farm building which of course turns out to be the house where Violet is holding her Halloween party.

Snoopy proceeds to Schroeder’s piano, where Schroeder plays for an alternately depressed and cheerful flying beagle. What he is playing, as you would know if you studied these things, are four of the most popular songs of World War I, just the sort of things to appeal to a flying ace. It’s an interesting assortment, including only two songs written during the war itself, and only one of those dealing with the war. All four, however, are known forever as World War I songs, and they are, in order:

“It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, written as a comic Irish song but expressing how much the hero is missing his girlfriend in Ireland. Sung by Irish troops in France as early as 1914, it caught on among the British troops generally, and became a soundtrack signifier. (When you hear “Jingle Bells” on a soundtrack, you’re supposed to think Snow, or Christmas. When you hear “Tipperary”, your subliminal message is World War I.)

“There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding”, written, apparently, on a bet, this is another song about how far one is from the land of one’s dreams and the loved one to whom the song is addressed. It has a very effective mournful tone.

“Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit-Bag” is a jaunty, optimistic song about not worrying, written for a competition for a good marching song for British soldiers in 1915. Not only did it chime in well with a general trend for jaunty optimistic songs in the 1910s and 1920s, it was catchy and easy to remember.

“Roses of Picardy” is about roses and love and a place called Picardy, which saw some of the worst fighting of the war, and was thus much in the news. It became a standard and, it says here, was of much use in helping shellshocked veterans of the war to regain their speech. It may well be one of the least warlike war songs ever published.

I hope this enhances your Charlie Brown viewing. Furnishing these footnotes to pop culture is just one of the services a good library provides. (Please do not write in about the Easter Beagle: that’s months away.)

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