Thursday, June 3, 2010

What is so rare as the third of June?

If today were June the third—which it's not any more, due to the propensity of the Earth to keep on turning, but if it were, this would be a much more timely treatise on the popularity of June the third in the popular song. For example:

There's Bobbie Gentry's great "Ode to Billie Joe," which begins, with a hint of bad things to come, "It was the third of June, another sleepy dusty Delta day..."

There's "Third of June," by Corey Hart, with the lyric, "Oh dance with me / under the bright moon / third of June..."

There's a song by an 80s Swiss band, Yello, called "3rd of June" with the now-scary opening:
"This is the 3rd of June, 1988
A highly unimportant day
Some airplane gliding into one of the bigger clouds over Manhattan..."

And finally, there's a great Fats Waller number from 1935: "Where Were You on the Night of June the Third?" which takes the form of a mock-third degree:

Where were you on the night of June the third?
Whadja do on the night of June the third?
Did you meet a stranger?
Did you take a walk?
Was your heart in danger?...

...and it turns out, of course, that she ("you") was actually with the singer on the night in question. Kind of sexy role-playing.

It's not that surprising that June the third comes up so often when a date is called for in a song. June's a great setting month. It's romantic, it's got possibilities, it can be gothic or innocent or both. And third flows better than any other one-syllable ordinal number would. (First is too crisp. Fourth, fifth, and so on have those mothy final th sounds.)

In fact, I would like to nominate June the third to be the day referred to in James Russell Lowell's giggle-worthy poem,"What is so rare as a day in June?" Which starts...

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers

How many schoolkids have snickered at "Every clod feels a stir of might"? Millions? To say nothing of Heaven laying her warm ear over earth.

But that's still an intriguing question: What is so rare as a day in June? An undercooked hamburger? No, he's probably talking about rare as in "marked by unusual quality, merit, or appeal." From an almanacker's point of view, this is June-centric thinking. No doubt, it's easy to be seduced by the daisies and the roses, the wedding bouquets, the "deluge of summer," as Lowell calls it. Hey, school's out! What's not to like? But "perfect days"? Careful, Jim.

On the other hand, if you take one day in June to be that one-in-366, then why not the songwriter's choice, June the third? Heaven doesn't have to lay her warm ear on the ground to hear if the earth is in tune and risk encountering some clod with an erection. It's in tune! It's in tune!

On the third hand, I gotta say, today, June the 7th, is pretty gorgeous. If that's the kind of thing you like. And the forecast for tomorrow could be even better. Mmm, baby.

Class dismissed!

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