Americans did not invent apple pie. It was the English what done it and we pilfered it from them. They called it cake and ate it for breakfast but it was apple pie just the same. One of those "A Pie is a Pie by any other name" sorts of things.
As a mitigating factor, it wasn't the dessert we stole, just the recipe. Besides, haven't we, the perpetrators of this crime, suffered, too? After all, with apple pie off our menu, aren't we adrift without an arbiter of what makes things American? What else is as American as apple pie if not apple pie? Well, there's jazz, the pop top can, the Salk vaccine and straight from its record breaking run on Broadway, the American Musical. Sure, they'll lob one across that claims the English 'Musical Hall Tradition' was the extension cord that lit up our bright lights. In reply we ask, show us the seed of their complaint in 'Hair', 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and ' Rent'?
There have been other expropriations, as well. Some were inadvertent, while others were the result of kleptomania, pure and simple. Confessing these crimes will be good for America's souls. Besides, stonewalling never works, anyway.
One of the more prominent and loudest of our usurpations is the "1812 Overture." Americans use it as the baseline for every July 4th fireworks finale from the configuration on the Washington DC Mall to the ignition of 140 million sparklers burning fingers in backyards all across our darkening time zones.
It doesn't bother us that a Russian wrote our overture to commemorate his country's victory over Napoleon. We had a war that year, too. If the ASCAP ever calculated the royalties owed Tchaikovsky, he could have paid the Czar's wartime spending sprees and kept Alaska in the fold as well. Thank the stars in our flag that the statute of limitations is seven years on intellectual property violations. The British started the war of 1812 anyway, so it should be their responsibility, really.
Not of all of our crimes pay. Borrowing the music from a British drinking song for our National Anthem, for example. It was composed by a fallen-down drunk, splayed out on his back like Michelangelo, scratching the musical notations on the bottom side of the pub table under which he lay. It has so many octaves we had to wait for Mariah Carey to come along before we found somebody with the range to sing it. Then we stuck Francis Scott Key with the 'melody' and gave him one bomb bursting night to write the lyrics. What did we expect, 'Some Enchanted Evening'? I like to think we've paid them back with 'England Swings Like a Pendulum Do', with all due respect to Roger Miller, who wrote some clever, catchy songs.
There's a chance the Italians will file a claim against us, too. Yankee Doodle gave his feather the Nom de Plume 'Macaroni' before he stuck it in his cap. If the Italian cold case squad wants to go after Yankee Doodle, they're more then welcome to try. Herodotus on Google couldn't find the origins of macaroni. What is known about this pasta's past is that it didn't come from Italy and it wasn't China. We'll see them in court; we've no shortage of litigation professionals.
So you see, stealing the credit for some of our American icons is as apple pie as apple pie was once thought to be. But we are not the only embezzlers of foreign cultural currency. New countries steal, old countries borrow. Didn't that sound in Mick Jagger's voice sound like we had heard it before? And wasn't there something familiar about that Russian space shuttle? And don't tell me the French came up with text messaging and Tivo before we did.
As for the apple pies, let's ship them back to England and to their cousins made with kidneys. We've been saddled with these soggy pies long enough. We don't like them much, anyway. The only way we can choke one down is to bury it under ice cream and call it 'A la mode'. Which by the way, was not stolen from the French. It was a gift from Lafayette.
Article © Barry Udoff. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-06-30