Wednesday: Popular American Culture

The Old Refrain is Dead. Change the Soundtrack.

“Dear gentlefolk of Newport, maybe I should say “hats and cats,” please lend an ear that you may hear some shimmering sharps and flats. For those cozy virtuosi, known as “hipsters” to the trade, wish to show you now precisely how jazz is made.”
-Bing Crosby as C.K. Dexter-Haven in High Society

Oh America. Wake up and smell the bland mediocrity.
I’ve been too busy this week to follow the pending budget crisis with which our (estimable?) Legislative Officials are playing dirty chess.
Well, part of it is that I’ve been too busy. Part of it is that our Yuletide flirtation with The Cliff was over-hyped and accomplished nothing. I’m tired of it.

Here’s the thing: I, like many of you, have an interminable list of things to accomplish in my daily life. There’s a stack of papers on my desk that does not go away. Many days, I accomplish not one thing on the established “to-do” list, because I’m too busy frantically blundering through the “emergency to-do” list, sidelining things I’ve known about for days. I get it. I understand the work-flow function. I am also well acquainted with the guilty joy that comes from sorting through that stack of things and realizing how much has fallen off the “to-do” list because of expiration, unimportance, or complete change of track. “THANK GOD I DIDN’T WASTE MY TIME ON THAT!” I think.

But Congress, you do not get this luxury. You may not ignore things until they become crises. You may not build stone wall after stone wall after filibuster wall to put things off ad infinitum. Fix it, dammit. Get your hands dirty, have some real conversations, make some compromises, come up with some new ideas, get some opinions of people who are smarter than you are (for the sake of all that is holy, please, get some opinions of people who are smarter than you are). Do something. America’s economic governance should not be metaphorically comparable to college dorm room furniture, collected from dumpsters and yard sales and grandma’s basement to make a piece-meal, barely functional living situation, largely dependent on WD-40 and duct tape. America’s economy should be (has been, can be) the type of room you see in Southern Living, or Veranda, or maybe even that really innovative stuff you see in Architectural Digest. Cohesive, statement making, solid design that was expensive at the outset but will last you forever, or at least until your grandchildren carry it up the frat house steps and think “this will do for now, but I’m going to have to start about investing in some quality pieces.”

Stop telling me it’s difficult. I know it’s difficult. That’s why I didn’t run for office. If you can’t fix it, you can’t do your job. If you can’t do your job, take a page from Benedict’s book and STEP DOWN.

We just turned over a new Senatorial leaf. We’re supposed to be invigorated and inspired for the future. So why am I not? Why am I thinking, “fine. Let the tax hikes hit and the spending cuts slash and let America really feel what it’s like to live with less. Do it while I’m young, please, and maybe we can cycle through lower taxes and higher spending later in my life.” Congress, you are utterly uninspiring. And for the sitting government of what was once an innovative, free-wheeling, fresh, cutting-edge, optimistic country, that is deplorable. Stop grasping at the almighty dollar and start shooting for the idealistic stars that created us (U.S.) in the first place.

Change the soundtrack. Turn off Mozart’s Lacrimosa, and put on some jazz music. Innovative-and-yet-classic, one-of-a-kind, only-from-America, change-the-rules jazz. Start with Now You Has Jazz ( by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. It’s all about working with disparate tools and dissonant notes to make something unprecedented and inspiring. Take notes.



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