Everything Old Is New again   Leave a comment

What Songwriter Peter Allen Knew Forty Years Ago

October 26, 2015

In the late 1960s I was in college at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Working for the campus radio station I volunteered to do a series of occasional interviews which ranged from singer/actor Dick Kallman, to John F. Kennedy speechwriter and advisor Ted Sorensen. One interview was with a relatively young yet obviously seasoned performer who, at the time, was one-half of the Australian cabaret act Chris & Peter Allen. CPAllenThe duo was performing at the lounge atop Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel. Peter was about 23 at the time and little did I know then that our paths would cross again less than a decade later when he signed a recording contract with A&M Records. Sitting at the piano in the home of A&M Records President Gil Friesen, Peter entertained about 30 of us in this rather intimate setting. I saw peter-allen-02Peter in concert time and again over the next 10 years, as his songwriting and collaboration produced an amazing body of creative work including “Just Ask Me I’ve Been There”, “I Honestly Love You”, “I Go to Rio”, “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, “Bi-Coastal”, “I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love”, and so much more. Epitomizing his inherent cabaret flair was a song titled “Everything Old Is New Again”. The music and the lyrics came to mind this week as I considered some recent events because, as we’ve seen, everything old is new again.

Fats 2.0: Fats have been a part of my diet as far back as I can remember. I’m old enough to recall butter on or in everything; steaks fried in oil on the stove (the grill was for sissies.) Lard was a principal ingredient in most cooking. Whole milk on my Sugar Pops. And then we were told that fats are bad. So I spent the next 40+ years listening to my doctor and a family full of nurses ask “how ya doin’ avoiding those fats?” My usual response was “I’m working on it.” This past weekend I was making dinner of fatspan-seared Tilapia with Safflower oil, Romaine lettuce, and an olive oil-based salad dressing. Good effort, so I have only myself to blame for picking up the New York Times and reading an article titled “The Fats You Don’t Need to Fear, and the Carbs That You Do”. Give me an effin break. 1000 words telling me I can have fats. I’m not certain I have enough years left to undo all of the damage done avoiding fats the last 40 years, but I pledge with my right hand raised and my left hand wrapped around a chocolate eclair, that I will do my part.

Deja Vu, eh?: The news from Canada on October 19, 2015 was striking. The Toronto Star carried a photograph of a handsome young couple with picture-perfect children. The dashing 40-something father in the photograph just won a trudresounding victory in Canada’s national election. I rubbed my eyes to be certain I was awake in this century as I read the paper’s proclamation: “Ontario delivers Trudeau his Liberal majority“.  What? Pierre and Margaret are back? Not really. Our friends to the north elected the son of the dashing late 20th century Canadian leader Pierre Elliot Trudeau. In the 1960s America had the Kennedys. Jack was dashing in his own right and the era was dubbed “Camelot”. In the 1970s it was Pierre who charmed Canada, and the charm oozed south across the border into the United States. The elder Trudeau was a rock star. And now his son Justin will become Prime Minister of Canada. Lineage doesn’t guarantee success, but there’s something good coming from Canada as outgoing conservative (Tory) PM Stephen Harper departs in a stunning loss. Liberal Trudeau will take the reins of the Canadian government. Bonne chance.

What Me Worry? Part 1: Farther south a different story has been making the front and near-front pages of newspapers and websites around the United States. Hell, it’s probably in this week’s edition of My Weekly Reader. Continuing his “I’ll Say Anything” tour, Donald Trump opened his mouth and, believe it or not, a significant unspoken truth fell out. The October 16, 2015 New York Daily News reported the utterance from “The Donald” and the unbridled disbelief expressed by a Bloomberg News talking head:

“Donald Trump stuck a shiv into the Republican establishment Friday by suggesting that former President George W. Bush bears some of the blame for the 9/11 attacks. ‘When you talk about George Bush, I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time,’ Trump said on Bloomberg TV. Anchor Stephanie Ruhle appeared stunned by Trump’s remark. ‘Hold on, you can’t blame George Bush for that,’ she said. But Trump, who is leading the pack of Republicans running for President, would not budge. ‘He was President, OK?’ the GOP front-runner said. ‘Blame him, or don’t blame him, but he was President. The World Trade Center came down during his reign.'”

The GOP faithful began to go into apoplectic fits. The same Republicans who can attack Hillary Clinton for the Benghazi attacks cannot bring themselves to connect President “W”—then 9 months in office—to the most significant terrorist attack on American soil since the British burned the White House and Capitol in 1814*.

What Me Worry? Part 2: A few days after Trump’s declaration that the 9/11 attacks occurred on George W. Bush’s watch, he added another truth to the discourse:  “Jeb, why did your brother attack and destabilize the Middle East by attacking Iraq when there were no weapons of mass destruction? Bad info?” Good question. Democrats have been significantly more vocal on this topic than Bush’s responsibility as Commander in Chief on September 11, 2001. Republicans can defend “W” all they want, but the historical view isn’t getting prettier for “the decider”. And his subsequent decision to destabilize the Middle East was a mistake that has generated catastrophic results. Bush’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom” is the poster child for chaos theory.

Forget “W” not understanding Shia vs. Sunni. How about if Bush had just understood the concept of unintended consequences, perhaps even he would have thought twice about invading Iraq. Author Rob Norton reminds us that “The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it.” Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Kennedy School of Government professor Linda Bilmes gave the Iraq War close scrutiny. Their book, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict pegs the dollars wasted on the Iraq War at $3 trillion—and counting. (By comparison, Bush Administration officials projected $50 billion. That’s a $2 trillion, $950 billion difference. Even Enron did better planning than Bush, Wolfowitz, et al.) Those of us who marched through the streets of New York in February 2003 to try and stop the deliberate march to war in Iraq felt a small measure of satisfaction that the stupidity of invading Iraq is at least being spoken out loud these days. Even if Trump is the mouthpiece.

George Santayana, in Life of Reason, wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Peter Allen’s “Everything Old Is New Again” is no less prophetic. But at least it’s a musical gem reminding us in a gentler way. Perhaps we need to send a copy of Allen’s recording to each member of congress at the start of every new term. Then again, maybe the song they need to hear is “Just Ask Me I’ve Been There”.

David Steffen

© 2015 David Steffen

Note: an edited version of this essay appears in the November 2015 issue of the Lighthouse Peddler coastal newspaper.

*Technically in 1814 the residence was known as the Presidential Mansion.

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