Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Two "Lesser" Inaugural Songs

1) At Last (the song to which the Obamas performed their "first dance" at various balls.

Written in 1941 for a mostly forgotten musical "Orchestra Wives" and performed by Glenn Miller's Orchestra.

The version that strikes me as the version is Nat "King" Cole's 1957 recording. It was another time where Obama reminded me that the "mainstream" has long included African-American performers. But I recall, as maybe Obama does but probably most don't, that Cole was a very good straight-jazz pianist before he became known as the great singer we know him as now.

It's great that he's reminded me of not only Sam Cooke and Charlie Parker, but Louis Armstrong and now Nat "King" Cole.

Thanks, Obama.

2) In his inaugural address, Obama said: "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

And that reminded me of a very old song I associate mainly with happy white-bread Depression-era tunesmiths: Start All Over Again.

To quote from the lyrics:
Nothing's impossible I have found,
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off
Start All over again.

It's one of those keep your chin up Depression-era songs like "Pennies from Heaven," or "We're In the Money," or "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries."

If Obama were an old-style Democratic politician, he might have referred to "Happy Days are Here Again." A good song in context, but there are other contexts to attend to.

I realize that some black performers have recorded "Start All Over Again," but to me, as a white guy who was born far past the Great Depression,that song is a mainstream white USA tune that speaks to the essence of what Obama is talking about:
  • the current situation is as serious as a heart attack.
  • We will have to perservere.
  • We will have to try a few approaches before one ultimately works
  • we have to recognize that common people are resilient but we are not a stepping stool for the well-heeled.

Much like his embedded and unheralded inaugural allusions to Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others, the songs he chooses say something about this country and about this western world.

And this tune is not a "white-bread American tune." It's merely an American song. An American tune.

These songs are good tunes. But they are not just good tunes-- they're more than that.

Welcome President Barack Obama. Godspeed to you and to us all.

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