Amoeba’s Lorica: Of Girlfriends, Instrumentals, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic (2018 Update)

Updated from the original 2014 post, so that folk who’ve tuned in late may have some context for, er, current events.

fancy trumpetAt various times and places throughout his life on this planet, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba has been told that he has a respectable singing voice. Generally, YFNA has been content to leave this judgement to others. Though it has occurred to him that, oftentimes, such comments have been ploys to pry these hideous brass contraptions off of his face. Contraptions that he most definitely did not learn to play respectably until it was almost too late.

But that he insisted on playing anyway.

Y’see, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba has long preferred to do instrumental rather than vocal music. Because, with instrumental music, any feelings, any emotions, that somehow manage to poke through the wrong notes, duck-quack tone quality, and ear-warping intonation of the amateur’s horn, are the unconstrained result of right now’s one-on-one encounter between the player and the chart.

With vocal music, you’ve got lyrics.


A pack of damned words that sit on the music stand like a tyrant in a field marshal’s uniform, barking orders that instruct you just how you will feel about this tune, soldier. Or else.

And to an Amoeba of a certain age, it appeared that 17 out of every 10 sets of song lyrics were either desperate ploys to get someone to go to bed with them, or desperate laments over the someone(s) that did go to bed with them, and the whole business seemed to be far more trouble than it was worth.

Not exactly the emotions that will lead to the successful delivery of a love song.

Is it necessary to point out that the Amoeba of a certain age didn’t get a whole lot of dates? And was content? Until some girl tackled him – in the middle of a high-school concert band field trip, no less – and let him know, over the next several months, that it really was more trouble than it was worth. But, by then, the damage had been done. Alas.

Now, because lyrics are tyrants, they give you little excuse for not perceiving the intellectual and emotional intent of the author. And should you, the performer, fall in with the author’s intent – well, that’s a powerful combination.

Which is why YFNA hopes never again to have to perform the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Because if he gets sucked into a performance, and the director doesn’t ‘get it’, YFNA is walking out of the rehearsal and damn the consequences.

In case, dear reader, you don’t know, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, aka “Glory Hallelujah” or “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”, is one of the most popular patriotic songs of these Untied States. Its lyrics were penned by Julia Ward Howe on the morning after she witnessed a body of Union soldiers marching off to fight the Confederate Revolutionary American Civil War – a war that ended chattel slavery (almost entirely of peoples imported into America from sub-Saharan Africa) in the USA, and prevented the establishment of a separate nation (the Confederate States of America) that would have preserved slavery, its economy having come to depend on it.

The original lyrics consisted of six verses. Most renditions that YFNA has seen, or participated in, have no more than four, with the last being:

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Ah, but Our Fellow Americans have a bit of a problem with that word “die” – when it doesn’t mean a machine tool, or half of a pair of dice, or spelled with a “y” and hitched to a compound the first part of which is “tie-“. As George Carlin famously exclaimed when confronted with New Hampshire license plates bearing the state motto, “Live Free or Die”:

Die? Die?!? I don’t want to die!!

Neither, it seems, do a lot of choir directors. Who change the offending line in the Battle Hymn to:

As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free

Thomas Bowdler did less damage to Shakespeare.

Americans tried to live to make men free for most of the first five decades of the 19th century. Political machinations, social movements, and even heroic enterprises such as the Underground Railroad, served mainly to unite the southern states of the American Union in defense of their “peculiar institution”. And when that Union elected a President – Abraham Lincoln – who promised concrete action towards making men free, the South vowed to preserve slavery by breaking up the Union, or die trying. To which the North responded that it would preserve the Union, or die trying.

Let us die to make men freeAnd they did die. The Confederate Revolutionary American Civil War cost more American lives than Americans have suffered in all of the USA’s other wars combined. In the South, economies died along with the soldiers. By some estimates, it took the former Confederate States a full century to rebuild their economies to anything approaching pre-war status. Slavery died de jure, but it was, again, a full century before slavery died de facto, and, as current events have made abundantly clear, the descendants of slaves still fight slavery’s vestiges.

To YFNA, it is a bitter irony that most of the persons who would “live” to make men free profess the Christian faith. Jesus of Nazareth understood, if the New Testament accounts are even remotely historical, that, if one is not prepared to offer the ultimate sacrifice in support of what one believes, one really is not prepared to offer any sacrifice at all – and any pretense to the contrary is empty posturing. Julia Ward Howe understood this, she lived it in the context of her time and her marching soldiers, and this is why she wrote what she did. To change what she wrote, YFNA thinks, particularly to change it in this way, does violence to her message, and reveals the revisionist “Christians” to be little more than just another comfortable club.

Of course, members of a comfortable club do not wish to contemplate making hard, potentially sacrificial, choices – just as American politicians in the first half of the 19th century ducked hard, potentially sacrificial, choices with a series of compromises that, in the event, merely postponed the inevitable and made it destructive to the point of annihilation.

Global warming, YFNA thinks, demands hard, sacrificial choices in personal living standards, right now, today. Personal daily energy use needs to decline, nothing less will serve. Last YFNA knew, it was increasing. In that context, all pontifications about global warming are without form and void. We are voting for global warming. And, in the November 2016 elections and their political, economic, and social aftermath, We the People of these Untied States have made the vote explicit.

The revelation of bigotry by a certain owner of an American major league sports franchise demands hard, sacrificial, individual choices, right now, today. Spectators need to abandon the franchise, if not the league that tolerates the franchise; nothing less will get the lasting attention of the franchise, or the league. YFNA expects the arenas to be sold out, the media ratings to set records. In that context, all pontifications about racism are without form and void. We are voting for racism. See above under “global warming”, and also, as YFNA reads (he no longer follows any aspect of this festering blot on what’s left of our collective conscience), the continuing financial success and high social profile of the league in question.

YFNA does understand that the sports owner’s difficulties stemmed from interactions with a girlfriend. Perhaps the gentleman is now contemplating that the whole business is more trouble than it’s worth (in YFNA’s case, present company excepted).

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6 Responses to Amoeba’s Lorica: Of Girlfriends, Instrumentals, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic (2018 Update)

  1. Tora says:

    An old retired fellow wrote me a 17-page letter once — never had that kind of love before from anyone, especially a man. He made one point. I was focusing too much on being dead to something… I needed to focus on being alive to something. He was making a comment on a verse in Romans about being dead to sin and alive to God. The business of being dead to something is hard work…. but being alive to something else takes care of the other….

    I have no idea what the heck this is about in your context. What I remember there was an old man who wrote me a 17-page letter, both sides of page, in cursive — which is dying today, and he either died a lot trying to write the letter or he loved me and wanted something better for me — than my focus on nihilism.

    I am tired of dying so much. It is an endless undertow. Can I escape for a bit? I got three dear-john letters in my youthful exuberance — it was more trouble than it was worth, they would all surmise…. Can I write a dear-john letter someday? Sure would feel better! This dying is for the birds. — (my mileage while listening to your dying)

    • Tora says:

      oh…. one more thing…. my wife died a lot — and she set me free. What a gal! — she went all in and came out the other side — there’s one dear-john letter that got redeemed. Glory Hallelujah! And we go marching on…..

      • Amoeba says:

        Two travelers met at a crossroads. They knew the roads they themselves had been down, and assumed the road the other had traveled was the same, or near enough. Then they spoke, and learned otherwise, and were perplexed, neither comprehending what the other had said, neither visualizing what the other had seen.

        Indeed, the health insurance people tell us that being ‘alive to something’ (having a purpose) contributes to health and long life – especially for the health insurance people, who get more folk paying premiums and not making claims, ka-CHING! But to what purpose that health and long life?

        “Here’s a good person cut down in the middle of doing good; there’s a bad person living a long life of sheer evil.”

        What if, because you were alive to your chosen purpose, death breaks out upon you and yours; if, because of your purpose, you did not notice death’s approach even though others are shouting We’ve been there, we’ve done that, don’t make us go through this again!

        “I see right through your work. You have a reputation for vigor and zest, but you’re dead, stone-dead.”

        Purpose that might give society the best chance of surviving and prospering in future generations may involve some of those members offering themselves up.

        “Don’t quit, even if it costs you your life.”
        “Put your life on the line for your friends.”
        “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

        Unpleasant as it may be to acknowledge this, we put this idea aside at our peril. And, at present, I argue, our peril is great.

        • Tora says:

          “Glory, Halleluiah – dead, stone-daeds, they squirm and fuss about
          a-rattlin, and a-shakin, dem stone-daeds have plenty a-spark
          a-shoutin and a cursin — a-hollering from der depths
          from ancient graves dey clamor with thunderous roars.”

          Glory, Glory – Halleluiah;
          Glory, Glory – Halleluiah;
          Glory, Glory – Halleluiah;
          His truth is marching on.

          — Tora (ltm)

          • Tora says:

            This image lays deep — from stories of the Firebird… your provocations brought this to mind…

            “In that realm there was a young hunter
            and the hunter had a horse that was a horse of power.

            It belonged to the men of long ago,
            a swift horse with a broad chest,
            eyes of fire and hoofs of iron.

            There are no such horses nowadays.
            They sleep deeply in the earth
            with the men who rode them,
            waiting for the time when the world has need of them again.

            Then, all the great horses will thunder up
            from under the ground
            and the valiant men of old will leap from their graves.

            Those men of old will ride the horses of power,
            and with the swinging of clubs and a thundering of hoofs,
            they will sweep the earth clean of the enemies of God.

            At least, that is what my grandfather said,
            and his grandfather said it before him,
            and if they don’t know, well, who does?”
            — Michael Meade (Introduction to the Firebird Story) “Men and the Water of Life”

            • Amoeba says:

              Re: men and horses of power …

              Qoheleth emeritus

                Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
                  – Ecclesiastes 12: 12b (NRSV)

                The professor sat in his office under the sun, it was empty but for the echoes of earnest literary babble on the small corners of thought.

                He had had disciples, they had shared coffee and controversy and vowed to be the army that would show their world the error of its ways.

                Most of them now sold insurance, one was aiming missiles at middle easterners, and at least two had, so far as he could tell, ceased.

                His eyes strayed to the blotch on the wall, where his fountain pen had been the collateral damage of rage against editors whose obtuseness had blocked his progress to publication and promotion.

                At that moment a boombox rapped past the open window, making its millions.

                He had written a paper proclaiming in solemn footnoted jargon that Gertrude Stein had begotten Snoop Doggy Dogg – which one would be remembered, which one would condescend to his office.

                It wasn’t even his office anymore, all his solemn footnoting had earned him was defeat in the space wars – literary babble had changed its tempo, a new conductor was wanted and he was to make the room.

                She came in, jamaican strutting, to claim her own. He asked her what she studied.

                Postcolonialist social text, sir

                she said with pride and heat, and she would have assailed him with the theme and variations of her dissertation, but the professor prevented it.

                May your work give you pleasure.

                And while she gaped in non-assimilation, he handed her the key to the empty office and went home.

                  Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all.
                    – Ecclesiastes 9: 11 (NRSV)

                    – O Ceallaigh
                  Copyright © 2006 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.

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