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7.28-WHERE IS YESTERDAY (United States of America)

United States of America

LISTEN

          (Agnus dei
          Qui tollis peccata mundi
          Miserere eis.

          Agunus dei
          Qui tollis peccata mundi
          Donna eis requiem.)

Do you remember what you said and did
a thousand years ago?
Where is yesterday?

Do you remember what you said and did
a thousand weeks ago?
Where is yesterday?

     Yesterday in crannies or in nooks you will not find;
     Yesterday in chronicles or books you will not find;
     All you see of yesterday is shadows in your mind;
     Shadows on the pavement but no bodies do you find.

Do you believe that snows of Winters long ago return again?
Where is yesterday?
A voice you knew a thousand years ago you can't remember when?
Where is yesterday?

     Here is only waiting for a day that went before.
     Here is only waiting for an answer at the door.
     Here is only living without knowing why for sure.
     Here is something gone you cannot find it anymore.

[Coda]


Dorothy Moscowitz is an occasional harmonist in Where is Yesterday; the lead singer is probably Gordon Marron. At any rate, it was not a Joseph Byrd song. Wikipedia quotes Moscowitz as saying that Where is Yesterday was her favorite cut on the album, and further that she believed this was the direction she thought that a second album would have taken. [The quote was included in the 2003 reissue of The United States of America.] Moscowitz’ statement is odd, particularly because Byrd seemed to have little hand in it. Maybe she liked it so much because she didn’t want to praise a song that she had sung herself.

Where is Yesterday picks up on a dropped thread in psychedelic music—the Gregorian chant and madrigals of similar antiquity. The music of the distant European past had for the most part been left behind in the Summer of 1967 in the craze for the new, the never attempted. (The Rolling Stones stepped into the Elizabethan period for Gomper and In Another Land on Satanic Majesties’ Request. That’s about it.) And here was a band representing the United States of America evoking the Catholic Church! The Lamb of God is recited in Latin to introduce the song. And it’s not ironic. The song means to evoke sober meditation. The string sounds accompanying the song make slow eerie glissandos.

Whatever wisdom is held by the lyrics however seems bogus, a simple shell game of cleverly mixing up space and time. Still, the Gregorian mode chosen for the introduction, and the madrigal following, evokes an extreme yesterday with nostalgia, a lost "here". “Now” would seem the better choice for the argument, but it hinges on the question “Where is yesterday?” The answer is that yesterday is not here. Could this be a protest that the furious searching for novelty that characterized the psychedelic period had only created nostalgia for more continuity with the past?

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