Who Knows What It’s Got Up Its Sleeve?

Polish cavalry in the ruins of Sochaczew, September 1939*

It’s become somewhat of a tradition here at Gates of Vienna to feature Al Stewart’s song “Laughing into 1939” in a New Year’s Eve post. As far as I can determine, we’ve used it three times in the past — in 2008, 2010, and 2016.

And I’m including it here yet one more time on the departing tail of 2017. How could I resist? Especially now that it’s available on YouTube, so that everyone can hear the haunting melody while they read the bittersweet lyrics (which are reproduced at the bottom of this post):

Even though we’ve been laughing into 1939 for almost ten years, somehow that fateful year hasn’t quite arrived. Yet.

To ponder the bittersweet New Year’s Eve of 1938 is to view it in retrospect, with all the benefits granted by hindsight. Just as those long-dead partygoers did, we’re walking backwards towards whatever our own grim rendezvous with destiny may be. Fifty years from now our descendants will understand that moment and what it meant. But for the time being, we know nothing about it.

And it may not be a cataclysmic moment like those of August 1914 or September 1939. It may be a long, drawn-out cataclysm, moving imperceptibly down a seemingly endless slope, ledge by ledge, until we reach the bottom. Maybe something like the Thirty Years’ War.

Or perhaps we’re midway through our own version of 1789-1815, which began with the overthrow of the Ancien Régime and ended with the New World Order ushered in by the Congress of Vienna. How was Prince Metternich to know that the magnificent system he godfathered was to last barely a century? That his glittering Austrian Empire would be shattered into minute fragments by his successors?

Perhaps our cataclysm began in February 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini seized power and established the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since then we have seen sudden sharp drops as we descend from ledge to ledge — the Marine barracks in Lebanon, Gulf War I, Khobar Towers, the Cole, 9-11, Afghanistan, Gulf War II, “The Arab Spring”, on and on…

It’s not over yet, not by a long shot. The current war is sometimes called “The Long War”, and with good reason — it will most likely continue for another generation or two. We may laugh into our own 1939 for fifty or sixty years.

After ten years of this, I no longer make specific predictions. We’re laughing into whatever year it may be. Let’s see what 2018 has up its sleeve.

Laughing into 1939
by Al Stewart

Party hat and satin dress
Silver paper curled in her long black hair
Tapping one small elegant shoe in time
Oh, the way she plays with them
Smile at one, then dance with another
Pretty soon they’re forming up a line
And she’s laughing, laughing into 1939
Oh, laughing, laughing into 1939

Oh, the party draws them in
It breathes and moves
To a life its own
In its arms it’s gathering all time
From the dark he watches her
Moving in and out of the bobbing crowd
If she even notices, she gives no sign
And she’s laughing, laughing into 1939
Oh, laughing, laughing into 1939

For tonight is New Year’s Eve
Uncork your spirits and welcome it in
Who knows what it’s got up its sleeve
Can’t wait for it all to begin
Stand by the girl with the purple balloon
The look in her eyes just lights up the room
In the corner of her smile
She’ll be seeing you soon
Under a mistletoe moon

Out on to the balcony
Come the King and Queen
And the crowd go wild
He’s a little bit nervous
But that’s just fine
And they’re laughing, laughing into 1939
Oh, laughing, laughing into 1939

*   The photo at the top of this post shows the Polish cavalry in the ruins of the city of Sochaczew in central Poland, riding out to confront the approaching Wehrmacht in September of 1939. It was taken about September 8, and despite the courageous defense mounted by the Poles, the city was under the control of the Germans by September 15.

I couldn’t find a useful account in English of what happened in Sochaczew, but here’s the Polish-language wiki, which machine-translates fairly well.

19 thoughts on “Who Knows What It’s Got Up Its Sleeve?

  1. I have bitter sweet feelings about Dec 31, 1999. The Cold War was done years before, and the economy was doing well. A remarkable invention–the internet–was a mass phenomenon. Back then, I had expected that the near future would be like the present.

    The 20th Century was launched, in a sense, by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. That led to World War I, which led to the conditions for World War II, and then the Cold War.

    The terrorist attack on Sept 11, 2001 launched, in a sense, the 21st Century. The Iraq War, the emergence of ISIS, the Syrian civil war, the migrant crisis in Europe…are related to that event in September. All of this, and more to come, I never imagined on Dec. 31, 1999.

    • I agree with you. The problems and issues of the late 90’s seem so quaint now compared to the concerns of the present. I am fascinated by WW1 and the lost era that the assassination of a worthless piece of royalty and his spouse put an end to. When I read about that lost world, I get the sense that everyone knew that war was coming, and anticipated it to one degree or another, but were shocked when it arrived by the magnitude of the disaster and the slaughter of an entire generation of young men.

      I feel that same sense now; that everyone knows war and disaster are imminent, but we do not yet realize the magnitude of the disaster and the carnage that awaits our society. Those of us who make it through to whatever awaits on the other side of this bottleneck of history will likely look back wistefully at the relative calm and peacefulness of this twilight of our civilization.

  2. I hope this is only one of many possible futures. As soon as my HeathKit [ notorious for faulty components ] Time Transporter is assembled, I’m headed back to 1965 where and when I understood everything that mattered and prices were so much more reasonable.

    • Ahhhh, that triggered my Time Transporter, with several Heath Kits under the belt, a home scratch built transistorized Geiger counter (commercial detector tube, though), fist pounding (a far more useful variety than the current low brow slang!), speed keys introduced, gallon rigs, half gallons, working the skip for dx global QSLs on ten and twenty, in the right sunspot cycle (see the lesson on global cooling about to devastate in near years coming up!), Hallicrafters, the special people whom you admired with the ultimate, a gallon Collins rig, and really clean signals, and your own mast with remote control directional multiband ten meter antenna, balun coils, and the rest of it, at or near the beginning of some of the equipment.

      You could buy a carbon C4 low grade surplus “mike” already, Teflon insulation was just beginning to be used, especially on then classified projects. One could feel through the mist of youth, the dawning of a new age, even walkie talkies and remote control planes, and sailboats, using escapements–I built my own RC airplane, on the citizens band….. all this was dawning as possible, then, now drones, anyone?…..

      Ha, the stupid dictionary didn’t recognize “walkie”, nor Hallicrafters, nor balun. Stupid dictionary, they who wrote it, didn’t know what they were missing. Oh by the way, no, I couldn’t afford Collins equipment, the most robustly professional grade beautiful stuff then on the market. But later I got my private pilot license, among many. And did fly other peoples Collins equipped aircraft…

      And then in an odd twist, sort of, of history, what do you know but eventually, Asian electronics, including Japanese, came flooding in, with top quality, similar to Collins, but less cost! No one woulda guessed.

      Happy New year to all, we might get lucky with President Donald Trump, and miss another round of the big bad stuff, but so many are uneducated, are so lost and gullible, and socialist, so mindlessly unimaginably self absorbed living in total imaginary lives, it is very difficult to see a chance of missing the next big one.

      Bleeding and vaporizing, seems the only way to teach history, in thousands of years of humankind, as well as most other kind, if you all hadn’t noticed. Sadly, but realistically.

      But for Auld Lange Sine, I do wish a Happy New Year, anyway. Especially for the truly oppressed, as by communism, socialism, totalitarianism, and cult and gang ism, around the world.

      Remember, freedom is the natural state which all would prefer, some demand it! Some know, death standing, better than slavery on knees, to a central authority!

      For those interested in upscale easy assessment of our condition, I suggest reading these three interesting pieces: http://thefederalist.com/2017/12/18/why-every-american-should-study-western-heritage-101/ A recognition of our spiritual and sociological lacks of awareness, which allows such as the first enemy potus of America to insinuate himself sacrilegiously onto our history-hussein-a version of a SOT, and all the rest of similar baggage, too.

      http://www.messagetoeagle.com/existence-time-one-greatest-mysteries-universe/ The future is known but to the Creator, not we who must be so tested.

      I add this one in self defense for the un-initiates who may lurk, from time to time: https://pjmedia.com/michaelledeen/first-anti-american-president/

      Thus begins the year properly, with knowledge, those who would proffer it.

  3. Thank you, dear Baron, as this was an unexpected bit of meaningful allegory that “American Pie” didn’t ever supply in any substantive measure (by my own scale).

    While I’ve never been a fan of Al Stewart this, “Laughing into 1939”, sure beats the snot out of many, er … MOST, other pieces of its time. I deeply appreciate you sharing this particularly obscure, yet worthwhile piece.

    If time permits, please let me know what you think of King Crimson’s, “In the Wake of Poseidon“. To me, it has some of the deepest lyrics of all modern rock. Your opinion would be of great worth.

    Regardless, the very best sort of New Year to Dymphna and yourself.

    Yer pal,


    • Oh, I remember “In the Wake of Poseidon”. I’m not going to listen to it right now (too much to do), but I remember it.

    • Norse Radish, I highly recommend that whole CD, “Between the Wars”. It is tone perfect – like something from a movie of the time.


      “Night Train to Munich” is a tongue-in-cheek spy novel.
      “Joe the Georgian” is exactly the right words and tone for Stalin. Our son could sing that song a cappella, and later with his 12 string.

      It was either 2001 or 2002 (long before GoV) when we all went to Delaware to hear Stewart perform in a coffee house. We figured he’d never get any closer so we grabbed the chance. It was a good venue, a small space with an attentive audience.

      At the break I asked Mr Stewart if the future Baron could sing “Joe the Georgian”. He looked at me startled and said, “That old thing?? I don’t even remember the tune”. I assured him that the fB had sung it without accompaniment many times, to which he replied, “Do you know how many people ask to perform and then get up here and can’t remember a damned word?” I assured him this would be different.

      Then I went off to find the fB and notify him of his impending performance…he gulped. It had been a few years…but I was confident of his almost eidetic memory and watched him sit down to cover his eyes and focus inward, dredging up the lyrics. He recalled every single word and note.

      Al Stewart was right: *he* didn’t remember the tune. He turned the mic over to the fB who soon had the audience stomping out a Russian rhythm to the words of the chorus:

      But it’s kind of hot and smoky in this ante-room to Hell
      And I won’t make up a story ’cause you know the truth so well
      It’s much too late to worry that we never had a chance
      And when Joe the Georgian gets here, we will dance, dance dance
      When Joe the Georgian gets here, we will dance…

      By the final few lines, the tune’s memory returned to Al’s fingers and he came forward to join in for a rousing finish. The audience gave them a standing (stomping) ovation and someone passed the hat for the fB. His first paid gig.

      Now that I think of it, this must have been in late 2001 or early 2002, as the fellow sitting at the next table confided to me that many of the dead from 9/11’s towers were channeling messages through him. For one of the few times in my life, I didn’t know how to respond.

      Anyway, “Between the Wars” proves what an excellent historian Stewart is. From China to the Spanish Civil War…it’s like being in real time in your parents’ or grandparents’ lives…

      • thanks for suggesting Al Stewart, I play his songs every day at work in headphones, to kill office noise (many people these days prefer to shout instead of talking. influence of pub culture I believe :)).

        my favorites:

        Palace of Versailles
        Night train to Munich
        Somewhere in England 1915 (guitar solo in the end++)

        • Or often the case, their hearing is shot from way too much “pop” culture, at max throbbing volume, right up front, with giga banks of trembling ground shaking speakers!!!!

  4. “Ander’s Army”. The travels of a Polish Army.
    An incredible story of resilience, personal tragedies, an epic 3 year journey through Siberia, Samarkand, Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Isfahan, Tehran, Baghdad, Syria, Jerusalem, Sinai, Cairo, Libya., to eventually fight the Germans at a crucial battle at Monte Cassino Italy.
    Some went on round Africa, to the United Kingdom.
    This personal story of what a family knew of politically and personally, knitted together.

    Only 114 thousand soldiers and some civilians, out of nearly two million Poles in the Soviet Union, were saved by the evacuation to Persia. It was a unique exit of people from the USSR, approved by Stalin, in the whole history of the tyrannical communist Russia. I was one of the lucky soldiers.

    “The Odyssey of General Anders’ Army” A radio BBC documentary 50 minutes, where survivors in their old age tell the stories.

    Still those people, battled on, never really knowing the future, but making the most of life where they could.

  5. Reminds me of Jesus’s words in Matthew 2437-39 – “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Laughing until destruction overtakes them!!

  6. It seems to me that the natural state of man is constant warfare, punctuated by brief periods of peace and longer periods where war has indeed broken out but leaders such as Chamberlain, Blair, Brown, May, Clinton, Bush and Obama refuse to officially acknowledge it.

    • You’re right. Anyone who reads history knows that this period has been an aberration. Conflict is our natural state. The ancient Hebrews had a whole mythos to help people understand that. The Tower of Babel is an excellent example of an ancient answer…

      We are in what some have dubbed “The Long War”. It might be more accurate to call it A Long War. At any rate, I recommend reading Bill Roggio’s website.

      See how Wikipedia manages a long essay on his work while never actually linking to his site (at least I couldn’t find it. They used to do this to The Center for Security Policy, too). We send Wikimedia small donations, but it’s for their non-political information. “Non-political” grows ever smaller a designation.


      Here’s the website:


      There are several writers/admin., who provide coverage of the hot areas. He’s excellent. I think we have his site on our blogroll, but not sure we kept it current…

  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbM86eiczAg

    Chin up people .If you are feeling down I can recommend Harry Lauder’s
    ” Keep Right On to The End of The Road”
    Just follow the above link.

    Harry Lauder wrote it in the wake of his only son’s death .
    Harry’s son Captain John Lauder of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders,was killed during the last months of the “Battle of the Somme (World War 1)

    • Thanks! He is obviously well-known in Britain, even now. You should read some of the comments…here are the words for American English speakers:

      Ev’ry road thro’ life is a long, long road,
      Fill’d with joys and sorrows too,
      As you journey on how your heart will yearn
      For the things most dear to you.
      With wealth and love ’tis so,
      But onward we must go.

      Keep right on to the end of the road,
      Keep right on to the end,
      Tho’ the way be long,
      let your heart be strong,
      Keep right on round the bend.
      Tho’ you’re tired and weary still journey on,
      Till you come to your happy abode,
      Where all the love you’ve been dreaming of
      Will be there at the end of the road.
      With a big stout heart to a long steep hill,
      We may get there with a smile,
      With a good kind thought and an end in view,
      We may cut short many a mile.
      So let courage ev’ry day
      Be your guiding star alway.

      Keep right on to the end of the road,
      Keep right on to the end,
      Tho’ the way be long, let your heart be strong,
      Keep right on round the bend.
      Tho’ you’re tired and weary still journey on,
      Till you come to your happy abode,
      Where all the love you’ve been dreaming of
      Will be there at the end of the road.

      [This song was written by Sir Harry Lauder shortly after his son was killed in action in World War I. The Birmingham City FC fans sing this song during their matches.
      Keep Right On To The End Of The Road song lyrics
      WWII songs from http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk]

      Unlike, say, “The White Cliffs of Dover” (which is very moving), this is a masculine song. We need those now.

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