I was just talking to someone about history. Their knowledge of history was proving to be an issue for them. Oddly enough, I think our current President’s lack of knowledge of history is proving to be an issue for all of us, but here I am thinking about history not because of either one of those things. I am thinking about history because a song I was just listening to is about history and in turn, has me thinking about history. You got all that?
Let’s start here. The Ghost of Paul Revere is a band from the great state of Maine. Four dudes. They play a style of music called “holler folk.” Think of it as the bruising bluster and soaring heights of Mumford and Sons and the southern comfort and harmonies of the Avett Brothers. You know, folk music, but with definitive stomp to it. The band got together in sunny Portland, Maine in 2011 and have since released a full length album, Believe, as well as two EPs, North and Field Notes Vol. 1. It is at this point that I think calling an album Field Notes Vol. 1 is fantastic. Calling an album North is pretty dope too.
Field Notes Vol. 1 features “Ballad of the 20th Maine” and amidst a week of depressed sighs, slumping shoulders and twenty mile stares of sadness, it has made me so incredibly happy. There’s something about hearing the band sing out “stand fast, ye are the boys of Maine” that brings a smile to my face and warms my belly. Damn it us Mainers are a loyal bunch.
Here’s where history kicks in.
The tune is the tale of 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a band of Mainers called to action at the start of the Civil War. The 20th Maine, led by Joshua Chamberlain, former college professor turned general and eventually the 32nd Governor of Maine. Chamberlain is one of those historical figures that everyone in Maine learns about in school and that is due in large part to his role in the Civil War. The 20th Maine found themselves at Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg. After a prolonged stretch of continuous fighting, they were running dangerously low in terms of ammunition, but also possibly in luck as Confederates geared up for another assault. On Chamberlain’s directive, the 20th Maine charged downhill with nothing but fixed bayonets, a move that threw the Confederates into disarray and ultimately allowed the Union to hold the hill, securing victory for the north. The 20th Maine’s actions were featured in the 1993 movie Gettysburg, with Jeff Daniels playing Chamberlain.
Yeah, sweet mustache.
And sweet song by The Ghost of Paul Revere – story-telling at it’s finest. I kind of can’t believe it’s a song that was written in 2015, or thereabouts. It sounds like something that has been around for generations, passed down and sung around campfires by people spending a pleasant evening in the woods of Maine. The lyrics, by the band’s lead singer Griffin Sherry, are poetry.
We were baptized by fire, at the battle of Bull Run / And we fought our southern brothers, in the wind, the snow, and sun / And when our time was over, we heard our Governor say / Keep fighting for the union, for just another day / So we joined the lion of Bowdoin, Chamberlain his name / and we marched back into battle as the 20th of Maine
Sherry tells the story of the regiment with a timelessness that is at once both incredibly admirable and inspiring.
Then appeared our lion roaring bayonets / Charging down the mountain with what soldiers we had left / We were steadfast as Katahdin, hard as winters rain / Take that rebel yell with you to hell / We are the 20th Maine
I listen to it…and I’ve listened to it a lot this week…and I feel removed, transplanted to a different time and place. The chorus is probably my favorite part of the song, although that’s like saying cold beer is my favorite kind of beer.
If we should die today, dream a dream of heaven / Take your northern heart with you to the grave / Be proud and true you are a union soldier / Stand fast, ye are the boys of Maine
Sometimes a piece of music just hits you, makes an impact on you in a way that is special and unique. It resonates with and speaks to you in a special way, as if it were whispering in your ear for only you to hear. Maybe it’s timing; maybe I’ve found myself wishing for a different time as of late or maybe it’s just the allure of home and the words “ye are the boys of Maine” that speak to me. You can’t pin point a feeling like it and that’s part of what makes it so wonderful. Loving something because you just effin’ love it is the best kind of love there is.
I love Maine. I love music with a stomp to it. I love this song.