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With the onset of blustery snow flurries, chafed cheeks, and depressed economic conditions, this drinking columnist, like so many others at this time of year, cannot help but yearn for her home on the shores of Lake Erie. And while not everyone is so fortunate as to hail from the crown jewel of the Rust Belt, all of us put on our underpants one leg at a time (with the possible exception of Mormons, who, I believe, must actually gird their loins before leaving the house), and we all know that the comforting concept of home is much more than a physical locality. It is a collection of unique intangibles. For me, it means a certain sound, a musical expression dear to my heart, veritable poetic food for the soul: the drinking song.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, I was not raised in a bar. It just so happens that my childhood lullabies were the songs one might hear from the inebriated patrons of such fine establishments. The lilting lyrics of “The Wild Rover” (I’ll eat when I’m hungry, I’ll drink when I’m dry, and if moonshine don’t kill me I’ll live ‘till I die), “Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder” (Who put the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder?), “The Wild Colonial Boy,” and “Goodbye Mrs. Durkin” filled my head as I drifted off to sleep and remain, to this day, etched on my brain. When I’m happy-with or without the help of a fermented beverage-I’ll often sing one.
So why doesn’t anyone else?
As the reader may guess from a cursory glance at my byline, my ancestry can be traced back to a certain tribe of Celts who found their way to a friendly little island in the north Atlantic. While many Americans subscribe to the irritating stereotype that being Irish is all about drinking green beer (a gauche concoction) on one day of the year, they are blithely unaware of the rich history of the Irish drinking culture. The pouring and consumption of wine or mead was a crucial component of initiation rituals for the ancient Irish kings, while the pubs the island is famous for have served as everything from funeral home to concert hall throughout the nation’s history.
Though I grew up in America, Irish songs have always been part of family celebrations and, well, just life in general. I sort of naturally assumed that people at college would know some drinking ditties as well. This assumption isn’t so crazy, seeing as most cultures incorporate some combination of boozing and singing into their celebratory occasions. For example, much like a Saturday night at Tombs, glasses are crushed underfoot during the Jewish wedding ceremony while “Hava Nagila” is belted out by revelers as the Manischewitz flows. The Japanese invented karaoke as a way to channel their inner chanteuse while chugging sake, and the Germans take an entire month out of the year because, as the old polka goes, “in heaven there is no beer.”
In typical American fashion, the drinking songs of our college experience emanate from MTV. We all sing along to “Umbrella” or that strangely mesmerizing Miley Cirus song (no, really, we all do), or the obligatory rendition of “Sweet Caroline” at the homes of Red Sox fans, because, well, they’re fairly catchy tunes. But to me, it’s just not the same. Sure, everyone may scream “I love this song!” when Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” comes on just as their Busch Light is kicking in, but is it just a knee-jerk reaction, empty words used fill the gaps in awkward, beer-driven conversations gone awry?
Drunk or sober, in the District or on the road, at least I’ll always know that humming a few bars of “The Wild Rover” will always lead me home, and it just might get me a free drink to boot.
Sing Clare a song, she’s the piano man, at email@example.com.