September Diary
On the Sovereignty Caucus, Chris Christie, the existence of evil, and more.


John Derbyshire

Top of the Pops. I closed out the last Radio Derb of September with a brief clip of the Beatles performing “Yes It Is,” which I said I thought “is melodically and lyrically one of their best.”

Several RD listeners have commended my choice. Try this out: Listen to “Yes It Is” — it’s on YouTube, of course — over breakfast, then tell me it wasn’t humming away in your head all day long.

One listener wanted to know my favorite Elvis song. Well, if you asked me on another day I might come up with a different answer, but this one is definitely way up near the top. It passes the breakfast test for sure.

A new Hank Williams album! Speaking of mid-20th-century musical genius, we have some new Hank Williams songs to look forward to. Well, new Hank Williams lyrics; these are hand-written songs from Hank’s old notebooks that he never got round to working up tunes for. Bob Dylan has produced an album of them.

The album collects the lyrics for a dozen unrecorded songs by Williams, set to melodies and recorded by an array of rock and country stars, including Jack White, Norah Jones, Merle Haggard and Sheryl Crow. “The Lost Notebooks” is being released on Oct. 4 on Mr. Dylan’s imprint, Egyptian Records, in conjunction with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Columbia Records.

You need to take a little care playing Hank Williams songs, at least around my house. A great favorite of mine is the CD I Saw the Light, a collection of Hank’s religious songs. This is the death-haunted religion of the South — of the old, weird America.

That’s probably the appeal. The South is, to my sensibility, the most English part of the U.S.A. For an Englishman like me, making his first landfall in New York, America sure seems like a foreign country. You find yourself among people named Grodzinski, Paparelli, Schnitzelkopf, and Rodriguez, with only an occasional O’Flaherty to even faintly remind you of home. Then you go to the South and everyone’s named Freeman, Williams, Cobbins, and Smith. Hallelujah!

And there’s a lot of English sensibility down there, too, including the death thing. There’s not much use trying to explain this to people who don’t get it; but those who understand, will understand.

And there it is in Hank’s religious songs. Which is a problem chez Derb.

News from Northamptonshire. Here’s a very moving story from my hometown newspaper, the Northampton Chronicle & Echo. That’s Northampton, England, of course.

In cloudy conditions on October 11, 1944, three B-17 Flying Fortresses collided over south Northamptonshire during the height of World War Two.

Although one of the stricken aeroplanes managed to limp back to its base, the other two crashed, leaving 11 servicemen dead.

While the crash was remembered well by many people in the county, the exact spot where the planes came down was not known until last year, when a team of archaeologists and aircraft enthusiasts excavated a field in Woodend, just outside Blakesley.

The team discovered a number of amazingly well preserved pieces of one of the planes, including parts of its windscreen, one of its wheels and a pedal from the cockpit.

But the most important discovery they made was a small, silver bracelet, which had the 24-year-old pilot’s name, Nicholas Jorgensen, etched on the back.

Following the discovery, the Chron tracked down the pilot’s remaining relatives in America and his nephew, Philip Jorgensen, flew over to England this month to watch the memorial being unveiled.

Mr Jorgensen, who travelled from New Jersey to watch the ceremony on Saturday morning, said he believed his uncle would have been tremendously proud of both the memorial and the fact that more than 200 people turned out to see it unveiled.

He said: “It was a beautiful service, it actually left me a bit overwhelmed. I was lost for words.

“It’s lovely to have a memorial to my uncle and his colleagues and it’s incredible that so many people came to see it unveiled.”

I grew up in Northampton, a sleepy country town with USAF bases in the countryside around. With some mild reservations — they had so much money! — we liked the big, bluff Yanks. The shared sacrifices of wartime had left a lot of warm fellow-feeling. Nice to know some of it still survives a half-century later.


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