Update June 22nd (by Dymphna):
I’m glad the Baron chose the song “Hard Times Come Again No More” as the theme for this bleg. Even though it was written before the Civil War (Foster died in 1864, the last year of the War), things were roiling and unsettled even in 1855. The states were stretching the bonds of federation and there had been a financial depression which only egged on the problems of the agrarian South.
This version of "Hard Times" by Mavis Staples is considered to be the best interpretation.
Several of Foster’s songs became state anthems in the South, though he wasn’t born here and only visited briefly once or twice. It didn’t matter: he had figured out the soul, both the black and the white aspects, of America’s southern regions.
You can also look at the wiki on “Oh! Susannah!” for more information.
For our readers who aren’t familiar with Foster, he captured and transmitted via music the mood of the mid-nineteenth century in America (de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was pusblished then). That’s why you hear underneath most of his tunes a strain of melancholy. On the other hand, “Oh Susannah!” became the theme for the California Gold Rush at the time. Eventually, there was a “Oh California!” variation.
Here is some biographical background on Stephen Foster. For those who already know him, this may provide a bit more context:
Rather than writing nostalgically for an old South (it was, after all, the present day for him), or trivializing the hardships of slavery, Foster sought to humanize the characters in his songs, to have them care for one another, and to convey a sense that all people--regardless of their ethnic identities or social and economic class--share the same longings and needs for family and home. He instructed white performers of his songs not to mock slaves but to get their audiences to feel compassion for them. In his own words, he sought to “build up taste…among refined people by making words suitable to their taste, instead of the trashy and really offensive words which belong to some songs of that order.” Stephen Foster was a man with a mission, to reform black-face minstrelsy, then the most pervasive and powerful force in American popular culture.
It is possible that Foster’s sense of mission was aided and encouraged by his boyhood friend and artistic collaborator, Charles Shiras. Pittsburgh was a center for abolitionist activities in Pennsylvania, and Shiras was a leader of the movement…He and Stephen wrote at least one song together, and a stage work that was performed but never published and is now lost.
At first, Foster wrote ballads and dances for parlor singers and pianists as well as minstrel songs, often referred to as “Ethiopian” songs, for professional theatrical performers. The minstrel songs, like the ballads, had simple melodies and accompaniments, but their texts, written in dialect, depicted African-American slaves as simple, good-natured creatures. Some of his earliest minstrel texts even had crude caricatures and terms, i.e. “Away Down Souf” (1848) and one verse that was later deleted from “Oh! Susanna.”
But as Foster grew more ambivalent about the earlier “Ethiopian” songs, he began offering a different image, that of the black as a human being experiencing pain, love, joy, even nostalgia. “Nelly Was a Lady” (1849) is an eloquent lament of a slave for his loved one who has died, apparently the first song written by a white composer for the white audience of the minstrel shows that portrays a black man and woman as loving husband and wife, and insists on calling the woman a “lady,” a term reserved for well-born white women. “Angelina Baker” (1851) similarly laments a slave who has been sent away by “old Massa.” “Ring, Ring de Banjo!” (1851), despite its apparent surface of frivolity, has the slave/singer leaving the plantation “while the ribber’s running high,” a reference to escaping while the bloodhounds could not pick up his scent, and traveling to freedom on the Underground Railroad. “Old Folks at Home” (1851), which was to become the most popular of all Foster’s songs, conveys a sentiment that had almost universal appeal--yearning for lost home, youth, family, and happiness. Increasingly, the “Ethiopian” songs used the same musical style that Foster created for his parlor ballads.
Because Foster was a careful listener and writer, he created songs that touched the American soul. There is simply some eternal echo, some chord, that thrums the American heart.
Somewhere we have a collection of his music. It was from that book that the future Baron learned to play “Hard Times”.
American Protestant hymns of the mid to late nineteenth century owe much to Stephen Foster. Because the germ of most of his songs was spiritual in nature, he was also the grandfather of many crossover tunes, the ones that both black and white Americans learned by heart.
Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More,” published in early 1855, was both a reflection of recent events in his personal life and a portent of things to come. He and Jane (his wife) separated for a time in 1853 and his close friend, Charles Shiras, died during that same period. During 1855, both his parents died. His song output diminished--only four new songs in that year--and his debts increased. He was forced to draw advances from his publishers, then found himself unable to supply the new songs he had promised them.
It was downhill from there. When he died, they found a slip of paper in his pocket which read, “dear hearts and gentle friends”.
That is you, our readers: dear hearts and gentle friends. Even those who only come to argue, those contentious few, are welcome.
Note for first-time donors: Expect to see “Natural Intelligence of Central Virginia” when you open up our Paypal, because that’s the business name that I use for software development, etc.
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Update June 20th (by Dymphna): Bumped up again, but no one's on duty.
Unlike NPR, we'll take both Sabbaths off and return on Monday for the finale. I have it already done, ready to go just in case I fall down the stairs or something.
Enjoy your day of rest. See you Monday and will follow with a report on Tuesday. It's been fun for me.
I finally found the signature line that no2liberals uses, so I'll leave it with you. From James Lewis:
Gratitude is a noble virtue; you have to respect yourself to be grateful to others. Only those who feel blessed can be filled with gratitude. It is a kind of courtesy of the heart.
I have given and received much gratitude during these fund-raising days.
Update June 19: This post will be moved to the top each day as a part of Fundraising Week. If you’ve read it already, scroll down for newer articles.
I’ve been down with “Stonewall Jackson’s Revenge” all day, so posting is light.
But the fundraising must go on! We’re just like NPR, annoying you with our refusal to shut up until you pay up…
Update June 18:Due to Zonka’s video tip, I can’t get “sixteen tons of number nine coal” out of my mind. Dymphna dug up (so to speak) the Tennessee Ernie Ford original, which is definitely preferable.
I may be deeper in debt, but there’s no company store that I can owe my soul to.
Thanks to everyone who has donated. You all are magnificent, as usual. And the email exchanges have been worthwhile in their own right.
Update June 17: One of yesterday’s donors sent this in an email:
There has to be a good joke somewhere that starts off with the line “an unwanted elderly programmer”. Maybe a limerick…?
An unwanted elderly programmer: That’s me! You’ll see me standing on a street corner holding a sign that says “WILL CODE SQL FOR FOOD”.
We were surprised and gratified with the response during the first twenty-four hours of our fundraiser. Gates of Vienna readers are an uncommonly generous lot. Rest assured that there is a special place in heaven reserved for you — even the atheists.
What was even more inspiring was the fact that several of the donors said that they were unemployed, too.
Many thanks to everyone who has contributed so far.
Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears:
Oh, hard times come again no more.
— Stephen C. Foster, 1854
This is not a good time to be fundraising.
There’s no point in hyping my unemployment; I’m hardly the only one in this fix. Times are tough, and they’re going to get tougher yet.
Still, it’s been quite a while since our last fundraiser, so it’s past time to rattle the pencil in the tin cup once again.
My job prospects are not as good this time around. People don’t want to hire old fogeys like me as computer programmers — they prefer young wet-behind-the-ears punks, who are presumably well-versed in the latest up-to-the-minute high-tech wizardry.
Because of Dymphna’s various medical conditions, I can no longer undertake the long commutes like I did some years ago. There was a time when I would drive to Northern Virginia or Richmond at the beginning of each week, stay for several days, and come home on the weekends. But she needs me here with her more now, so that’s no longer an option.
I’m going to patch together a combination of telecommuting piecework contracts, odd jobs, and whatever we can scratch out of blogging. My goal is to arrange my schedule so as keep Gates of Vienna up and running despite the obstacles.
Nilk suggested that I devise a subscription system in addition to the option for a one-time donation. Last week I made a “subscribe” button that connects with a $10/month automatic payment option using Paypal. I’ve never tried setting up such a thing before, so if you attempt to use it and run into any problems, please let me know. It’s on the sidebar just above the tip cup and the “donate” button.
If you prefer, you can use a credit card without actually setting up a Paypal account.
Nobody — probably not even Glenn Reynolds — can make a living entirely from blogging. But I hope we can eke out the hard times with your help, and keep body and soul and our connectivity together until such time as I can find a real job.
After Pajamas Media gave us our walking papers last year, we made a commitment to our readers not to take on any more annoying advertising. You all leapt into the breach with full élan, and made up for over a year’s worth of lost advertising revenue with your generous donations.
But much more time has gone by since our initial appeal, and I’m now unemployed, so I’m banging my cup on the table one more time.
It’s important to remember that Gates of Vienna is very much a team effort. If we ever earn more than a pittance doing this, I’ll start doling out pieces of it to the volunteers who spend so much time helping us.
In the meantime, I’d like to acknowledge some of the folks who give so unstintingly of their time and expertise to make this blog work. Some of them you will recognize as regular contributors — Fjordman, El Inglés, Paul Weston, ESW, Henrik Ræder Clausen, and Takuan Seiyo.
Others toil doggedly on in relative obscurity. I can’t possibly name them all, but among them are the ICLA research team, which includes Gaia, Aeneas, AMDG, and KGS. Then there are the translators Kepiblanc, CB, TB, Piggy Infidel, H. Numan, Rolf Krake, Zonka, Alma, and Yorkshire Miner. Vlad Tepes, Erenicus, and Steen are invaluable for photos, video, and news items.
Our regular tipsters deserve a mention, especially those who supply bulk material for the news feed: Insubria, C. Cantoni, Heroyalwhyness, Islam O’Phobe, JD, and Tuan Jim. Other frequent tipsters are Abu Elvis, Larwyn, LN, Zenster, REP, The Frozen North, Paul Green, and Nilk.
Last but not least is our Flemish correspondent VH, who is in a class all his own. Not only does he send news tips and translate from Dutch, French, and German sources, but he is also a top-notch researcher and collator of information. Nobody can do a better job of diving into the sewers of Antifa and Indymedia for the purposes of opposition research. We owe a big debt of gratitude to VH — much of the valuable content here at Gates of Vienna is available because of his efforts.
All of these doughty souls are foot soldiers in the Army of Midgets. If my ship ever comes in, they’ll get first pick of the cargo.
’Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard times, hard times, come again no more!
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh, hard times come again no more.