By Don Stuart
---- — Every single year, even the worst of singers – let’s say, for example, my wife – is likely to warble a few words of the exact same tune at the exact same moment. I speak, of course, of “Auld Lang Syne,” and I’ve recently learned how little we know about something we all know.
For starters, it’s fair to say there are VERY few among us who really “know” Auld Lang Syne.” There are four stanzas beond the familiar one that we sort of half-understand the words to. Which is sort of a shame, because its lyrics are incredibly easy to remember. Assuming you find a tongue that sounds like a mash-up between the English, Elvish and Klingon languages “incredibly easy.”
Here are some of the lyrics that even Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadiens never bothered to perplex us with over the course of dozens of televised New Year’s Eve telecasts from New York’s Waldorf Astoria:
“We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,/
frae morning sun till dine;/
But seas between us braid hae roar’d/
sin auld lang syne.”
Try wrapping your mouth around those lines after a New Year’s Eve toddy or two. Fortunately, the song ends with a classic, unforgettable line – “And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught/for auld lang syne” – which is the sort of thing you can pronounce pretty much any way you want because if you’ve sung that far, you’ll be the only one singing and not kissing someone.
Having mentioned the immortal Guy Lombardo, there are other celebrities who warrant mention when discussing “Auld Lang Syne.”
First and foremost, there’s the Scottish poet Robert Burns, who is generally credited as the writer of “Auld Lang Syne.” There’s a picture online of Burns’ hand-written manuscript of the poem wherein he refers to the melody as “but a mediocre air.” He’d feel differently about it if he heard, say, my wife sing it; he’d probably start referring to it as “but a punishingly atonal air.” But I digress.
The next celebrity worth mentioning is Elvis. As in Presley. Mainly because he’s a celebrity everyone knows, and just as in the foodie world everything is better with bacon, so it is with columns about celebrities that mention Elvis.
Elvis produced an album back in the ’70s called “Elvis – New Year’s Eve ’76,” on which he sang “Auld Lang Syne” When he got to that final phrase – “we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught” it sounds very much like he’d already had several over the course of the evening.
Another notable performance was given by Jimi Hendrix, on December 31, 1969, at the Fillmore East in New York city. It’s actually one of my mom’s favorite versions, because in the middle of the song, Jimi is joined on stage for an extended jam session by Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadiens. They’d had a few too many gude-willy waughts that night and couldn’t find the Waldorf Astoria – they just went to the nearest place with loud music.
For what it’s worth, whether it’s mispronouncing gude-willy waught or some other phrase, graduates of The University of Virginia should be forgiven for garbling the words to “Auld Lang Syne” even moreso than the rest of us. This is because the melody of “Auld Lang Syne” is ALSO the tune to the U-Va’s “alma mater” song. Even though it’s not the school’s official “fight song,” “The Good Ole Song,” as U-VA-ers call it, is still the one people sing at football games after Virginia scores. The folks who run the stadium concessions love it, because in a Pavlovian style response, fans hear the strains of “Auld Lang Syne” and reflexively order up more gude-willy waughts.
In Denmark, “Auld Lang Syne” has been faithfully translated from Robert Burns’ original. The only complication is that the lyrics are written in a Danish dialect that’s only spoken in the – stay with me now – northern part of western Jutland, south of Limfjord. Mischievous Danes like to give tourists complicated directions to this place, and only after the greenhorn has down half-a-dozen gude-willy waughts.