Monday, May 30, 2011

For Memorial Day: Charles Ives sings They are There



No matter how down I am - and believe me, I'm a pretty depressive personality - this song, as sung by its composer, Charles Ives, always lifts me up. Actually, I prefer Ive's second take, which you can download from iTunes for 99 cents.  What jump starts my spirits every time is Ive's explosive energy and enthusiasm, as he curses out with equal impatience both Kaiser Bill and his misperforming feet, barrelling past all physical and vocal limitations.  If there's such a thing as life force, Ives - and his music - had it, and you can hear it in these performances.

Beyond that, however, Ive's lyrics carry the same sense of optimistic idealism that's the bedrock of the "better angels" of the American spirit.  I reproduce them here, via Lipwalk, amended to be closer to the verses as sung by Ives in that second take. Composed in 1917, They are There, with its references to smashing dictators and overcoming politicians, it's fresh as today.  More than any lachrymose requiem, it embodies with an amazing rough beauty the idea of sacrifice in pursuit of a better world . . .

There's a time in many a life,
when it's do though facing death
but our soldier boys will do their part
that people can live in a world where all will have a say.
They're conscious always of their country's aim,
which is Liberty for all.
Hip hip hooray you'll hear them say
as they go to the fighting front.

Brave boys are now in action . (Hooray.)
They are there, they will help to free the world
They are fighting for the right
But when it comes to might,
They are there, they are there, they are there,
As the Allies beat up all the warhogs,
The boys'll be there fighting hard
a-a-and then the world will shout
the battle cry of Freedom.

Tenting on a new camp ground.
Tenting tonight.
Tenting on a new camp ground.

For it's rally around the flag,
of the people's new free world.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

When we're through this cursed war,
All started by a sneaking gouger,
making slaves of men
(Goddam him!)
Then let all the people rise,
and stand together in brave, kind Humanity.
Most wars are made by small stupid
selfish bossing groups
while the people have no say.
But there'll come a day
Hip hip Hooray
when they'll smash all dictators to the wall.

Then it's build a people's world nation - Hooray
Ev'ry honest country free to live its own native life.
They will stand for the right,
but if it comes to might,
They are there, they are there, they are there.
As the people, not just politicians
will rule their own lands and lives.
And you'll hear the whole universe
shouting the battle cry of Freedom.

Tenting on a new camp ground.
Tenting tonight.
Tenting tonight on a new ground.

For it's rally around the flag,
of the people's new free world.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

Then it's build a people's world nation - Hooray
Ev'ry honest country free to live its own native life.
They will stand for the right,
but when it comes to might,
They'll be there, they'll be there, they'll be there.
When the people, not just politicians
will rule their own lands and lives.
As you'll hear the whole universe
shouting the battle cry of Freedom.

Tenting on a new camp ground.
Tenting tonight.
Tenting tonight on a new ground.

For it's rally around the flag,
of the people's new free world.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

2 comments:

Antony Cooke said...

Excerpted compilation of comments (below) from my books, "Charles Ives's Musical Universe," and "Charles Ives and his Road to the Stars." I agree with your sentiments; this is raw, unfiltered Ives, the greatest American composer:

This is the only existing recording Ives of singing and playing, made when he was adapting the original 1917 song (He is There!) for the latest war effort (WWII). It has become almost legendary. Even with its period sound, and Ives’s modest, well-nigh ragged voice (!), he appears larger than life, seeming almost present in the room. It is from 1940, when he was formulating the new version for an anticipated performance by the New York Philharmonic that never materialized. Thus, the reworked song was a far more serious effort than might be realized, because at the time he was hoping that his growing fame would result in its adoption by the armed services, and subsequently would be identified with the war effort into which America had yet to enter. In Ives’s recorded reworking/partly extemporized version, his use of radical material on top of the more conventional original music is noteworthy, showing that his creative spark, if lulled into submission, had far from expired.

Alan McSpiritt said...

Thank you for this wonderful post, and my sincere thanks to Elizabeth Saunders for mentioning it on her Ives Thrives Twitter Account. Ives is my all time favorite composer, but us Ives fans are few and far between. Welcome fellow traveler! If you ever happen to be in New England in late October, be sure to join the annual Ives birthday celebration in Danbury, CT. The celebration includes a hike up a mountain that Charlie and his brother Moss used to make, a visit to the Ives birth house, a visit to Wooster Cemetary to visit Charlie's grave (& his wife & parents & niece (a pianist) & nephews), and a concert in the afternoon.