Monday, January 26, 2009

The Speech: Pick Yourself Up

Among the many commentaries on President Obama's Inaugural Address, this Sunday Frank Rich added his well-considered opinion. He also heard the speech as stern and spare, but articulated the message of that tone: "But there’s a reason that this speech was austere, not pretty. Form followed content. Obama wasn’t just rebuking the outgoing administration. He was delicately but unmistakably calling out the rest of us who went along for the ride as America swerved into the dangerous place we find ourselves now."

The messes we're in aren't solely the fault of Bush and the Bushites, Rich continues, but the heedless greed of Wall Street and the rest of us. "The austerity of Obama’s Inaugural Address seemed a tonal corrective to the glitz and the glut. The speech was, as my friend Jack Viertel, a theater producer, put it, “stoic, stern, crafted in slabs of granite, a slimmed-down sinewy thing entirely evolved away from the kind of Pre-Raphaelite style of his earlier oration.”

Within the speech, Rich writes, are hints that Obama will demand a great deal of all of us if we're to set things right. No one truly listening to the Inaugural Address could doubt that this former community organizer intends to demand plenty from us as we face down what he calls “raging storms.” Rich concludes: While it’s become a Beltway cliché that America’s new young president has yet to be tested, it is past time for us to realize that our own test is also about to begin."

Rich also picked up on a reference in the speech that I missed, but should have caught. As a former drama critic who grew up enthralled with Broadway, Rich caught the song lyric reference in the phrase I heard as simply a bit cliched: "we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off.” I should have recognized it because it comes from one of the corners of the musical comedy world I know pretty well: Fred Astaire films. As Rich points out, it's from a lyric in Swingtime, (which must be in every fan's top five of Astaire musicals, if not top 2 or 3) by the insufficiently acknowledged Dorothy Fields.

It's an Astaire duet with Ginger Rogers in the movie, and she has the better lyrics. (She's trying to teach Astaire to dance, and he's pretending not to get it.) Some of the relevant refrains:

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.
Don't lose your confidence if you slip.

Be grateful for a pleasant trip,
And pick yourself up; dust yourself off;
Start all over again.

Work like a soul inspired

'Til the battle of the day is won.
You may be sick and tired,
But you'll be a man, my son.

Will you remember the famous men

Who had to fall to rise again.
So take a deep breath;
Pick yourself up;
Dust yourself off;
Start all over again."

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