Birthday 2006 III
Bill Long 5/15/06
Returning, in Mind Only, to Darien, CT*
[*I have written more extensively of my Junior High years at Middlesex Junior High School, Darien, CT from 1964-67 in my 2004 autobiography: 52 and Strangely Found: An Autobiography Intellectual and Intimate. Four essays on my "Middlesex memories" are here. I decided to write this essay and publish it here tonight because there is almost no information online about Middlesex Junior High School, and I thought it would be helpful to begin to stimulate memories of the hundreds (and even thousands) of students, teachers and administrators who were there at that time if I wrote a few of my thoughts, which have now passed through the alembic of 40 years of memory.]
Birthdays always trigger memories for me, usually memories of my deep rather than recent past. Today, my 54th birthday, was no different, but the means by which I was stimulated to think about the past was different. I was listening to Simon & Garfunkel's 1966 hit "Homeward Bound" and these words stuck in my mind:
"But all my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity Like emptiness in harmony I need someone to comfort me.
Homeward bound, I wish I was, Homeward bound..."
Then my mind rocketed back to eighth grade music class (1965-66, just when the song was new) at Middlesex Junior High School in Darien, CT. The reason for this was that my eighth grade music teacher, Mr. Laube, made a special point of teaching us to hate the word "mediocrity."
Mr. Laube as Music Teacher
What was wrong with America, he claimed, in rather-too-menacing tones for a music teacher, was that we were in love with mediocrity. But "menacing" seemed to be his middle name. He had a military mien and a crewcut that betrayed the fact that the philosophy of the marines had probably seeped more deeply into his soul than the finer notes of Bach or Beethoven. He strode around the music room as if he was a miniature martinet, with shoulders square, chest puffed out and determined stride. He insisted that we sing and memorize the third stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner, though in most Internet collections it is the fourth verse. The language is the most imperialistic of all the verses, and he had us belt it out with passion. For those of you not privileged to have him as a teacher, the words are:
"O thus be it ever when free-men shall stand
Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Ah, but there is one little mistake (maybe two) in this verse from the Internet sources. It is the word "when" in the fourth-to-last line. Actually, and I know this because we were forced to sing the verse so many times, the original language is "Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just." Mr. Laube emphasized that little word "for." To be Americans meant, for him, that our cause was always just, and that God was on our side.
Mr. Laube as Period Piece
On the one hand, Mr. Laube came across as a rah-rah school spirit type of guy, one who believed you should support your school, your country, your God. On the other hand, however, I think on further reflection that he represented a kind of bluff and bluster, a braggadocio and naive Americo-centrism that was characteristic not only of him but of a large part of an entire uncomprehending generation of (mostly men), whose sons were simply not enthralled by the values of the WWII generation. I will never forget my father's reaction a few years later, after we had moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and the student protests against the Viet Nam War had begun in earnest. He felt the protestors should be "lined up and shot," a sort of chilling reminder to me of the narrowness of perspective of the "Greatest Generation," who had kept the world safe from the expansionistic longings of Hitler and had contained the Communists but still didn't understand the basic notion that it was they, our enemies who lined people up and shot them. When we stop bowing down to the Greatest Generation, as Tim Russert and Tom Brokaw would have us do, we would get a more balanced view of their achievements--they saved Europe from terrible bloodshed and a tyrant's ways, but they seemed not to understand that America had within itself the capacity for self-criticism and improvement, a capacity that begins in protest and criticism.
I was actually scared of Mr. Laube. I never felt he would actually hit me, but I think he tried to give us the impression that he could if he wanted to do so. And, he certainly wouldn't have understood the words or the yearnings of Simon & Garfunkel, no matter how many times they used the word "mediocrity" in their music.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long