"Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor, God keep.
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep."
-Unofficial lyrics to "Taps"
Ah, Memorial Day weekend. My kind of holiday: The nightclubs are packed, the house parties are overflowing, the beaches are stacked and the parks and bays are alight with frivolity. We at Sordid Tales would like to remind everyone to, of course, have a good time this Memorial weekend, but also please don"t forget to hoist a mug and toast a dead soldier or sailor?they"re who you"re drinking for.
Which is exactly why, at the end of his term, Bill Clinton passed the National Moment of Remembrance Resolution, which asks that, at 3 p.m. on every Memorial Day, all Americans should "voluntarily and informally observe a moment of silence, or listen to "Taps."
Now, I"m not a big fan of resolutions, but I"m a huge fan of respecting those who"ve earned it. Resolution or not, it"s just plain rude not to honor dead soldiers on Dead Soldier Day. I think of everyone partying over that weekend?all that drinking and dancing and volleyballing in this relative Utopia called the United States?and it would just be pathetic, really, if all that drinking and dancing and volleyballing were happening without regard for the people who gave their lives so that we may.
And in my mind there is no better way to remember the sacrifice of fallen warriors than by humming or hearing "Taps." Not just because it is the tune that is played at the graves of killed soldiers. Not just for the raw power of that bugle solo?one sustained note after another, like a grim descent into the grave. Though all that is true, the reason "Taps" is a perfect Memorial Day song is for its fascinating and appropriate history.
See, "Taps" was not always a dirge. And it was not always called "Taps," either. It used to be called "Extinguish Lights" (or "Lights Out") and it was played on the military bases at the end of the day to "notify the soldiers to cease the evening"s drinking and return to their garrisons."*
And before it was "Extinguish Lights," it was called "Tattoo." Many historians and etymologists believe "Tattoo" was derived from the Dutch phrase "Tap toe" which means "To close or turn off the taps"?which is what Dutch tavern owners of the 17th century were required to do when the army played the song at a certain time. When "Tattoo" was sounded, the innkeepers literally shut off the beer taps and sent the soldiers back to their barracks.**
Not until the Civil War was "Taps" first used as an elegy. It was on the front lines of the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia. Captain John C. Tidball had his bugler play "Extinguish Lights" for the burial of a cannoneer because the situation was such that he couldn"t provide the soldier with a traditional sendoff (three volleys over the grave). So they played "Taps" instead.
"Go to sleep, Peaceful sleep?"
The choice made perfect, poetic sense:
1. "Taps" was a song about turning off lights?which can easily be a metaphor for death.
2. "Taps" was a song about going to sleep?which can easily be a metaphor for death.
3. "Taps" was a song for shutting down beer taps?which can easily be a metaphor for death (or at least despair).
It is something to consider this Memorial Day weekend, while your taps are open and flowing and you are enjoying the sort of relative freedom that not all people on the planet get to enjoy. It"s something to consider when you"re drinking and dancing and volleyballing; that among all the other risks and sacrifices of the soldier?like death, despair, mayhem and the Congolese clap?our protectors even gave up their right to drink beer as late or as often as the rest of us. Which in my book is true sacrifice.
Don"t worry, friends, even if you were against Bush"s ugly, ugly war, playing "Taps" won"t contradict your position. It just helps to underscore your point, helps to underscore the real devastation that war wreaks on humankind and helps to put a face on the dead. So on this Memorial Day especially, at 3 p.m., hum or hear "Taps" to commemorate those who fell in that pitiless desert. And fellow bartenders, why not play "Taps" at last call on Monday night? Crank it up on the house sound system or a boom box or something. Let everyone know the taps are closing, and so, let"s pour one more round, godammit, and hoist a mug to dead soldiers and sailors on Dead Soldiers and Sailors Day. ©
To download and burn a recording of "Taps," visit www.usmemorialday.org/taps or e-mail email@example.com.