Thursday, July 5, 2007

July 4th Traditions

When I was a kid, I remember that the Fourth of July usually involved a gathering of the clan. My parents both came from large families, so there were many cousins on both sides and there would be lots of people for a summer cook-out. Somewhere along the line, "speedies" became the choice of food for the bbq, rather than hot dogs and hamburgers. An Italian version of shish-kabob or souvlaki, the marinated lamb, pork, or beef was skewered and grilled and served on crusty rolls. Fantastic.

We live thousands of miles from any blood relatives, so my son has not had the experience of a clan gathering in more than 15 years. Although he's got a dozen first cousins on my side of the family, he rarely gets to see them more than one at a time. Out here in California, we choose our own families and make different traditions.

The biggest tradition I've got now, thanks to the wonders of laser disks and DVDs, is to watch 1776 every Fourth of July. (I've read elsewhere that I am not alone in this tradition.) It is, without doubt, my favorite musical. It is the first musical I ever saw on Broadway, from nose-bleed cheap seats in the highest balcony thanks to a Hofstra University field trip my first year at college. I saw the film the night it opened to the public at Radio City Music Hall during the Christmas season in 1972. I have seen countless mountings of the show because if it is playing anywhere within a 100 miles of where I am, I'm willing to make the trip. Fortunately, it is also one of Len's favorites (Sondhead that he otherwise is), so he's with me on this.

It pleases me no end to know that Richard Nixon was threatened by one of the songs. He managed to get it excised from the film after its opening (cowardice on the part of the producer, as far as I'm concerned), but the song is back with all of its relevance in the DVD release. Sung by John Dickenson, it extols the "virtues" of moving always to the right, and, of course, makes the audience see how well that works out for the rich, but not the middle or poorer classes or, frankly, society as a whole.

The entire play is an indictment of the current administration. I have long referred to the pretender in the White House as "George the Third," so I find this film as relevant today as in 1972. And because most of the dialog is taken directly from letters and records of the 18th Century it seems to me that it should be a wake-up call to America. After all, those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it (e.g., the Nixon and Bush administrations.) Maybe some guerrilla theatre troupe will start performing the play outside the White House or wherever the criminals of the current administration are holding up these days, to remind them that our founders believed that it is right and just to rid ourselves of tyrants. Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann continues to point out the failures of the rule of law in this administration. His July 3 commentary, found here, is nothing short of brilliant, but Bush and Cheney will never resign. I expect we will be stuck with them until January 20, 2008 and hopefully not beyond.

Totally apart from July 4th traditions, the last time I was in Philadelphia, for the World Science Fiction Convention in 2001, Len and I, along with Melinda Snodgrass and her husband Carl, stood on the stairway inside Independence Hall singing songs from this musical. Melinda was trained as a singer. For the rest of us, it's just a good thing only the docents were subjected to the performance. But it's an inspiring libretto, and what better place is there to indulge?

During the time I lived in Northern Virginia, we tried to watch the Bicentennial fireworks from the Pentagon. Unfortunately, a large part of the show was "ground works" which couldn't be seen from across the Potomac because of the trees. That was a real bust, IMHO. I did once photograph the DC fireworks from the steps of the U.S. Capitol, and that was one fantastic evening. The last summer I was there, the law firm for whom I was working had a party on the roof of their building on Pennsylvania Avenue, and that was also a really nice location for the show. In the Northern Virginia city where lived, the town fireworks took place almost across the street, so we could sit out on the steps to watch. I like the view, but not the noise or crowds, so that was quite a good solution.

When I first spent time in L.A., there was a large fireworks display at Pierce College which we could watch from our house or the rail road tracks nearby. That ended a number of years ago, so we don't tend to have parties at our place on the Fourth. Lately, we've gone to a friend's in Studio City for a bar-be-q and then we walk to Ventura Boulevard to watch the fireworks from the Radford Studios, about a mile away. The only thing missing is music, and we've done dreadful renditions of John Philip Souza and Beethoven's 9th to supply the missing ingredient. Next year, we've decided, we'll bring a boom box with appropriate CDs.

No comments: