John Andrist: Everything Starts With Us

On the eve of the 4th of July I decided to celebrate the holiday by googling George M. Cohan.

If you don’t know who he was you must be younger than 50. And yet everyone knows something of him through the some 300 songs he wrote in a lifelong career on Broadway, many with a patriotic flair. “Over There”, written during World War I as a salute to our military and our determination to defend liberty was one of them, authored about the same time Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America”, a song that laid dormant until 20 years later when it was recorded and rocketed to fame.

On the eve of the 4th of July I decided to celebrate the holiday by googling George M. Cohan.

If you don’t know who he was you must be younger than 50. And yet everyone knows something of him through the many songs he wrote and Broadway shows he produced before any of us were born.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]The culture of our parents and grandparents was not an expectancy that America owed them happiness and upward mobility or even social services. It was more one of gratitude for a country that provided them a framework to seek all these things for themselves — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.[/mks_pullquote]

If you love America google some of his stuff — “Yankee Doodle Boy”, “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to name just a few. And “Harrigan”, “Mary Is a Grand Old Name”, and “Give My Regards to Broadway” were among his best.

It was either when he was dying or shortly after his death in 1942 that his life story was told in the great musical film, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. Remember?

Another voice from the past, James Cagney, later type cast in many gangster movies, won an Academy award for his portrayal of Cohan in that movie.

All this floated back into my reverie, primarily because all my life I was an easy sell for patriotic music.

But then, I was a product of an era when patriotism and love of country were at fever pitch.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright, later to be made famous as President Obama’s pastor, did the famous sermon, “God Damn America”.

He could never have gotten away with that in the days of World War II — or even during the great depression when the country was in the grips of it’s worst economic time in history, but wouldn’t say “uncle.”

There are many voices like those of Rev. Wright in today’s world. We’re told that the strange political culture of our time is born of American frustration and pent up anger, because so many people feel they no longer have access to the fruits of liberty.

The culture of our parents and grandparents was not an expectancy that America owed them happiness and upward mobility or even social services.

It was more one of gratitude for a country that provided them a framework to seek all these things for themselves — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

During the great world wars, self-service was made subordinate to joining in the war effort, whether through military service, working in defense plants, buying war bonds, or simply accepting the dictates of rationing and war time shortages. America came first.

A long time ago President Kennedy admonished us to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask only what you can do for your country”.

Seemingly, despite the great ring in those words, they seem more and more to have fallen on deaf ears.

And yet I still believe that the disparate voices of our time could be mostly swallowed up by a vast American majority of us who really, really love this place, even though we sometimes get caught up in the cacophony that surrounds us.

Our immigration problem, after all, is not one of long lines striving to get out of this land of the free, which sometimes seems less than a home of the brave.

Most of those who serve my needs in my new home are minorities who have sought us out, many Iraqis, Africans, and refugees “to” America.

They are beset by problems of their own, not the least of which is a fear that they may be sent back by our broken immigration system to the tortuous life they fled.

I often contemplate, perhaps you do too, why I was so fortunate to be in the small circle of humanity lucky enough to be born an American.

And I yearn for a time when all of us are prepared to raise our voices in grateful gratitude that will drown out the voices of desperate dissent.

…and the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, give proof through the night that our flag is still there.

Well, George Cohan started this rant. Pray that more of our contemporary musicians and entertainers will be drawn to the cause.

Everything starts with us.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

Related posts

Top