Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Battle Cry of Freedom

Back in April, Margalit Fox gave us one of her patented "I bet you never knew that" obituaries about Les Waas, the adman who wrote the Mister Softee truck soundtrack. That's right, the nearly ubiquitous Mister Softee ice cream truck's music was actually written, and not just taken from a bad high school band's rehearsal. In fact, there are words, and Ms. Fox, in her thoroughness to details, gives us a few bars. Of lyrics.

At the time I wrote to Ms. Fox and told her of the time, a long, long time ago, when the Mister Softee trucks were sabotaged in their garages in Queens just before the July 4th weekend. No jingle, and no Mister Softee that holiday.

This of course would have been a Mayor Mike dream. No incessant music coming from slow moving, or idling ice cream trucks. A few weeks later I read that Mister Softee seems to have run afoul of another ice cream company that claims the right to sell exclusively in Midtown Manhattan. Mister Softee ice creams trucks are apparently intimidated from cruising through the Midtown area tempting office workers to indulge.

New York fights over everything. Who can sell pretzels and hot dogs on which corner, and who can call themselves Ray's Pizza .(This one seems to have gone away, for now.)

When I was working in the Flatiron District I remember one Mister Softee truck that was parked by a sizable apartment house on 24th Street and Broadway. Because of the city regulations on not playing the jingle while parked, they were musically silent, but were just the same doing a land office business with all the nannies and young kids from the building. All this Mister Softee news got me to pay more attention to what plows through our suburban neighborhood.

As a kid growing up in Flushing in the 50s there was the Good Humor man, whose open cockpit vehicle with a freezer in the back used to come down the block, jingling its bells on the windshield. The white suited, bow tie ice cream man had his hands full with the gang that piled out of the houses when his bells rang. I like to think the parents' and kids' money got that poor guy some Florida real estate that was above water at low tide. He put up with a lot.

But paying closer attention to my immediate sounds, I've come to realize we get cruised by three ice cream trucks. Mister Softee of course is one. No mistaking that. Then there are the two trucks that somehow don't really look like ice cream trucks, despite being what looks like being painted white. They somewhat more resemble repurposed armored cars with the gun turrets removed.

One is Rick's, and really doesn't look clean enough to be selling you anything you want to put in your mouth. I don't remember if he has the jingle, or it is the other guy who I don't know the name of, who plays 'Battle Cry of Freedom.' That's right, a Civil War song. One truck plays nothing, just recognizable by the slow movement and the sound of  its diesel engine. I never see anyone on my current block stop any of the trucks.

I can just imagine Cliff Robertson in a 'Twilight Zone' episode waking up from a long nap on my front lawn, hearing the 'Battle Cry of Freedom,' and reaching for his musket. It really is the 'Battle Cry of Freedom.' I've confirmed it. I guess the tune is in the public domain, so no royalties need apply. Imagine an ice cream truck in the Carnegie Hall/Central Park area pumping out the notes to something Beethoven. He's in the public domain as well.

Here we are well into the 21st century and someone is still paying a Civil War tune, well north of the Mason Dixon line! Not that I think many people would recognize the tune for what it is. When I was a kid I remember the Long Island Star Journal, the newspaper of Queens, carrying stories of when the oldest living people passed away. A few times I read of Civil War veterans finally slipping off at ages well beyond 100.

So, in the spirit of putting things I want on my iPod because I can get them from iTunes, I've downloaded two versions of the 'Battle Cry of Freedom,' one by Bobby Horton (you remember Bobby Horton, right? I don't. I remember Johnny Horton.) and the other by the Chicago Symphony and Chorus.

It is great. I can hear the music whenever I want, and I don't have to buy the ice cream.


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