Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Philosophy in Musicals

I grew up on Musicals.  My parents were opera fans and had seats at the Metropolitan Opera for many years.  While I have always liked opera my first love were musicals.  When I was younger I could still remember the lyrics to most of what I had seen.  Today bits and pieces keep coming into my head.  It is not surprising that the theater reflects our lives but in some cases touches on universal truths.  Setting these truths to music and rhyme make them all the more memorable.

In our home the other night an older person was trying to convince a younger one that the younger generation was being dumbed down by the internet and texting.  The argument was that they no longer had the vocabulary to express themselves.  Right away two songs popped into my head.  The first was the song “Initials” from “Hair”, the musical by James Rado & Gerome Ragni, music by Galt MacDermot, that had its Broadway debut in 1967.

LBJ took the IRT

Down to 4th Street USA

When he got there

What did he see?

The youth of America on LSD




Now, this is a half-century old and we were already using texting abbreviations.

Listening to the discussion continue I thought of “Bye Bye Birdie” a take off on the Elvis craze from 1963, with lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse. Every generation seems to think that the next has “gone to hell in a hand basket.”  To wit, the song called “Kids”:


I don't know what's wrong with these kids today!


Who can understand anything they say?”…

“Why can't they be like we were,

Perfect in every way?

What's the matter with kids today?”

I don’t know about you but I so often think about what I could have said in a certain situation some hours or even days after the conversation took place.  “Destry Rides Again” the 1959 musical with music and lyrics by Harold Rome.  “Tomorrow Morning” hit the nail on the head with:

“Tomorrow Morning at half past three
All the wonderful things will come to me
That I could have said and should have said today.

Tomorrow morning at half past four
I’ll be thinkin up bright remarks galore
I could have made and should have made today.”

One song that I think about all the time is a serious topic today, prejudice.  It is from “South Pacific” the 1949 musical composed by Richard Rodgers, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.  “You’ve Got to Be Taught” is worth more than one stanza:

You've got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You've got to be taught

From year to year,

It's got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,

You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You've got to be carefully taught!

The United States had recently finished its experiment with interning all those of Japanese descent even though many were the staunchest patriots.  Now we are hearing exactly the same rhetoric from some of our Presidential candidates!

“Those who cannot remember the past are bound to repeat it,”  George Santayana (1863-1952). Maybe they should have listened to musicals.

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