In 10th grade, my U.S. history teacher taught our class about the American Civil War by playing the Ken Burns’ documentary, frequently pausing at the salient points to interject other notes of worth. This approach often lead to digressions about the ills of drunk driving or the dangers getting married before you’re thirty, and consequently it took us nearly a month to get through these videos. While the combination of Mr. Burns’ thought provoking storytelling combined with Mr. Davis’ tirades provided an education and entertaining exploration of the Civil War, my biggest takeaway came not from the history, but from the soundtrack.
Ashokan Farewell features prominently in the documentary, getting played 25 times throughout the span of the eleven-hour series. In one segment we heard a voice reading “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.” over this captivating fiddle-based waltz. And then the voice signed it “William Tecumseh Sherman”. It was at this point a classmate and I realized that you could read about anything to Ashokan Farewell, and it would be automatically imbued with incredible depth and gravitas. More importantly, this could be exploited to great comedic effect. We soon began amuse ourselves during Mr. Davis’ lectures by reciting nonsensical prose, imagining it set to this tune, and closing with the all important “William Tecumseh Sherman”. Shortly after, I discovered that Conan O’Brien and his staff found similar humor, producing a short sketch wherein Conan writes letters to his parents from summer camp.
This idea sat dormant for far too long, until late 2008 year when in an e-mail thread with some friends it was mentioned that reading a heartfelt letter in a raspy voice over “That song from The Civil War” equalled comedy gold. Within a day we were producing our own takes on this theme sharing them with each other via e-mail, but just as quickly as this idea resurfaced we allowed this idea to go back into hibernation… until today, when my friend Tom had reminded us of our silliness, and now I feel the time has come to share some of this with the rest of the world. I should note that the samples below were not the first Ashokan trailers produced, but are the ones that I made. Hopefully, my friends will upload their videos, so that I can update this post with some new links.
And now without further ado I present: