Thursday, January 20, 2011

Question of a National Music

I watched Ray for, perhaps, the second or third time last night. More or less to see and watch Jamie Foxx and the continuity of his performance. I have to say, Jamie Foxx is one of the greatest actors of this era. Or at least, I should say, among the most talented of entertainers. Not only is he an amazing comic with a great sense of timing, he's a gifted vocalist and musician. Very much in the vein of Ray Charles in his ability to imitate and vocalize almost instantaneously. That's talent. But my thoughts on the film shifted quickly from an analysis of Jamie Foxx, to a wonderment of the jazz standard, "Georgia on My Mind" (music written by the eminent Hoagy Carmichael). We are fond of the expression "The American Songbook" as a means of encapsulating that 20th century phenomena of popular American music. And it will continue as do most palimpsests (i.e. the great American Novel). We all have an opinion and that opinion is quintessentially bound to the idea of what the nation is or should be. "Georgia" is one such example, of a song that perks nearly every ear within hearing distance and invokes an emotion. Lyrically (written by Stuart Gorrell) the repetition of Georgia invokes an anasemia of noun usage. Georgia the state? Or Georgia the woman you once loved? It hardly matters anymore. It has become an American standard buoyed to the angel of American history. I thought of another such beautiful song. Edelweiss. Oscar Hammerstein had a penchant for writing songs that invoked a sense of national pride or history (Ol' Man River and Oklahoma for example). Edelweiss is an odd song, lyrically. A praise to a small white flower of Austrian national pride. Small and white/Clean and bright/Bless my homeland forever. An idealism founded on the "purity" of the flower, in the face of the Nazi invasion. All of these national songs are American in origin--anthems, like the pledge of allegiance to a supposed/preposed state. Beautiful songs that can invoke and instill a sense of patriotism. The question then is, what undergirds a national patriotism?

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