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Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Always look on the bright side of life

Ever since I quoted that Edwin Muir poem the other day, the Google ads on this blog have been about nothing else but grief counselling and will making.

So in a bid to dispel the gloom, I hereby offer, courtesy of youtube, Eric Idle's classic song about looking up even when things are looking down. I dedicate it to all those facing hard times due to the world economic downturn. Indeed, our governments have decreed that pessimism is unpatriotic, and we must all feast in the time of plague and above all, spend, spend, spend our way out of recession! So let the Clown spread a little optimism.

In case that doesn't work, here's a version of the song that Idle may have been parodying. Irving Berlin's Let's Face the Music and Dance was written for the film Follow the Fleet in the middle of growing economic depression and the looming spectre of war in Europe. In place of Fred and Ging, here are Strictly Come Dancing's own Anton du Beke and Flavia Caccace, and for double the fun, Vincent Simone and Erin Boag. This was a gloriously cheeky routine, one of my favourite dances by the professionals on my favourite show.

Did you know Anton du Beke's real name is Tony Beak? That certainly brought a smile to my face!


LostChords said...

In fact some years later - in 1938 - the songwriter published a song to rally the people or - as he himself said - to "wake up America" and now, I saw that both in the NYT and in a doctoral dissertation, it's denounced as "jingoistic".

I don't think "Let's Face The Music And Dance" is an escapist song, it's a song about escapism, that's a difference.
At first it's a kind of "carpe diem" song: let's make love and forget the trouble of the world. This is a very common motif in popular music, Bob Dylan for example used it a couple of times (in "I Want You" or in "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"). Then there is the idea that in hard times we really need a respite (or love or happiness on a personal level) to survive the trouble.

But on another level this one and other related songs are ambiguous comments on the isolationist complacency in the USA at this time written by a member of the immigrant community who had much more insight into what was happening in Europe at that time than many of his fellow citizens. Reading the lyrics of the song today it seems to me he could really see what's coming. Only many Americans at the time weren't aware or didn't want to see that they would be soon "humming a different tune". In this context it's really a poignant song.

One related song from this year was "Isn't This A Lovely Day":

"The weather is frightening,
The thunder and lighning
Seem to be having their way.
But as far as I'm concerned it's a lovely day

The turn in the weather
Will keep us together
So I can honestly say
That as far as I'm concerned, it's a lovely day
And everything's O.K."

For many people it wasn't such a "lovely day" and not everything was "O.K." but standing together will help to survive the trouble.

By the way, parodies on escapism and groundless optimism weren't that uncommon in these years. In 1932 Berlin had written one himself which was in fact a clever and hilarious spoof both on President Hoover and on escapist Pop-Songs.

Let's Have Another Cup Of Coffee

Why worry when skies are gray
Why should we complain
Let's laugh at the cloudy day
Let's sing in the rain
Songwriters say the storm quickly passes
That's their philosophy
They see the world through rose-colored glasses
Why shouldn't we?

Just around the corner
There's a rainbow in the sky
So let's have another cup o' coffee
And let's have another piece o' pie!

Trouble's just a bubble
And the clouds will soon roll by
So let's have another cup o' coffee
And let's have another piece o' pie

Let a smile be your umbrella
For it's just an April show'r
Even John D. Rockefeller
Is looking for the silver lining

Mister Herbert Hoover
Says that now's the time to buy
So let's have another cup o' coffee
And let's have another piece o' pie!

This is based on President Hoover's rather absurd claim - at the height of depression - that "prosperity is just around the corner". The other lines are quotes from Pollyanna songs: "The Clouds Will Soon Roll By", "Let A Smile Be Your Umbrella", "April Showers", "Look For The Silver Lighning"; "Just Around The Corner" was also the title of a hit song of that genre in 1925. Here he simply equates the groundless optimism of Hoover et al with the "rose-colored glasses" of the popular songwriters & makes it all sound absurd (and he wrote a rather corny melody that makes it even more absurd, it sounds as if Father Christmas is on his way)
Fred Waring & The Pennsylvanians (1932)

It recently occurred to me that this song isn't out of date, you only need to replace Hoover & Rockefeller with the names of those who are in charge today.

raggedclown said...

Thanks for your comment, LC.

I agree with you that "Let's Face the Music and Dance" is not simply escapist (although that is not necessarily a bad thing; it's part of the function of art to help people forget their troubles, if only for a moment, surely. Most of the big hits of the 1st and 2nd World Wars are songs of hope and escape: It's A Long, Long Way to Tipperary, White Cliffs of Dover, We'll Meet Again, etc. When people have real problems, the charts are somehow less full of whiney teenagers emoting about their non-problems). Indeed, there is an undercurrent of melancholy in the song:

Before the fiddlers have fled
Before they ask us to pay the bill
And while we still have the chance...

We'll be without the moon
Humming a different tune...

If there is escape, it is just for a moment. I love the abruptness of that "soon", filling a whole line by itself.

Of course, the punning use of the title (to face the music = confront unpleasantness, especially the consequences of one's own folly; face the music and dance = turn away from reality toward the orchestra and pretend everything is ok) emphasises the song's ambivalence.

It's my favourite Berlin song.