Rosie the Riveter RIP

In the middle of holiday celebrations, many may have missed that Geraldine Doyle, the inspiration for the famous poster of “Rosie the Riveter,” died on December 26 in Michigan. Doyle’s memorial service will be held this weekend on January 8, 2011.

When Doyle was 17, a photographer took a photo of her working at a metal-stamping machine in Ann Arbor. Artist J. Howard Miller used the United Press photo as the basis for a famous World War II poster that praised contributions made by working women. The poster, encouraging women to enter the work force, featured a strong independent woman flexing her muscle saying “We Can Do It!” Others named the woman in the poster “Rosie the Riveter,” after a popular song about women contributing to the war effort. The poster also inspired Norman Rockwell to create his own painting of Rosie the Riveter used for a 1943 cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Below is the audio for the Four Vagabonds singing “Rosie the Riveter.”

A little-known fact about the woman in the poster is that Doyle only worked at the plant for a couple of weeks. She quit the job after she learned that her predecessor injured her hand in the metal press machine. So, the woman who inspired the poster with the flexing muscle was not flexing her muscle in the job for long.

Still, her brief work at the plant inspired other women to do the work. She contributed to the continuing long journey toward obtaining equal rights for women as well as to helping defeat the Nazis. And that’s pretty cool. “Making history, working for victory,” just like in the song. Thanks Rosie, and thanks Geraldine.  Rest in peace.

Bonus Song Information: Although Doyle became associated with “Rosie the Riveter,” another woman, Rosalind P. Walter, inspired the song. Walter worked a night shift building fighter planes. Another woman, Rose Will Monroe, who worked as a riveter in Michigan during WWII, appeared in a promotional film during the war. Many at the time saw Monroe as the real Rosie the Riveter icon.

Bonus New Video: Pink’s new video for her song, “Raise Your Glass,” features her impression of the Geraldine Doyle poster:

The Birds

Two-thousand birds and 100,000 fish died in Arkansas about 100 miles apart, and so far nobody knows the reason.  The media is all over the story.  Such news gives us a little fear because it seems like the beginning of a horror movie or an end-of-the world movie.  Animals start dying for no reason, and then. . . .? For example, in Alfred Hitchock’s The Birds, a character in the movie refers to a real-life mystifying incident where birds in a California town started hitting buildings and dying, implying a connection to the later horror in the fictional story.

Hopefully, the scientists will figure out the causes.  They at least partly solved the mystery of some of the honey bee deaths in recent years.  Some scientists discovered the bees were dying from a combination of a fungus and a virus, even as the bee population continues to decline. But, if scientists do not discover the causes for the recent Arkansas fish and foul deaths, it is not such a bad thing for us to be bewildered for awhile. It sparks the imagination.

I have not watched The Birds in a long time. It was one of the first scary movies I saw as a child, so it carries disturbing baggage for me. The special effects seem unreal today, but the movie is still spooky. One of the best parts of the movie is that they never explain why the birds are attacking. Why are the birds suddenly attacking people? Does it have something to do with the lead character’s past? Alfred Hitchcock was a genius to not explain the attacks. By contrast, M. Night Shyamalan might have made The Happening a better movie had he learned that lesson. Unanswered dark questions terrify us more than the beaks and claws.

In honor of fallen feathered and gilled friends, here is the movie, The Birds, condensed down to one minute and forty seconds.

Bonus Byrds Explanation: For those of you who believe there must be a reason for the bird deaths, here are some Byrds who agree that everything has a time to every purpose under heaven.
Bonus Update (1/8/11): Google Maps now has a world map showing where the latest mass animal deaths have occurred.

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    YouTube Covers: Bob Dylan’s “Red River Shore” Edition

    When I purchased Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol. 8 (2008), the Bob Dylan CD that features unreleased songs from the time period of his more recent albums, the song “Red River Shore” stood out immediately as I played the CD in my car. I kept playing the song over and over again, barely getting to anything else on the CD. It is another example of a great song that Dylan originally decided to leave off an album he was making. At least they eventually get released. The music is great, as are the beautiful lyrics of loss.

    Now I’m wearing the cloak of misery
    And I’ve tasted jilted love
    And the frozen smile upon my face
    Fits me like a glove
    But I can’t escape from the memory
    Of the one that I’ll always adore
    All those nights when I lay in the arms
    Of the girl from the Red River shore

    Some writers have wondered if the girl from the Red River shore is the same person as was featured in Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm,” as in this piece on Gardener is Gone. Some have found religious overtones in the song, such as in Songs for the Journey, with some arguing that the song is about Dylan’s relationship with Christ.

    At first, I was interested that there might be a hidden meaning in the song. Of course, Dylan is Dylan and one may never know his intent, but on further listening I think those claiming religious meaning are wrong. The song is what it appears to be: a song about loss and memory. And while the final verse does have a reference to Jesus, it’s a statement that in today’s modern world, we unfortunately cannot count on God to undo what is lost. “He knew how to bring ’em on back to life/ Well, I don’t know what kind of language he used/ Or if they do that kind of thing anymore /Sometimes I think nobody ever saw me here at all/ ‘Cept the girl from the Red River shore.”

    There are few Dylan videos on the Internet, and none of this song that I can find. Although covers rarely match the original, I am intrigued by the number of people who have the guts to play a song and post it on YouTube. There are some nice covers of this song on YouTube. Here’s a good one by a German band called CCC Inc. It takes awhile for them to get to the song, though (around the 2:00 mark).

    This video of Henry Lim looks very professional, and it has nice instrumentation. Lim is the technical services assistant for the UCLA Music Library, and he has a busy extracurricular life. He has covered other artists like Radiohead with his string quartet, and he is an artist with Legos.

    There are some good versions in the “dude with a guitar” category, such as a nice one by Kevin Magoon, who also adds a little electronic drum. C22romero does a nice job on the song too, but maybe he should turn down the reverb a little. I wish Chris Pap below would focus the camera, but he does a nice quiet version of the song below.

    Perhaps because of the viewpoint of the lyrics, almost all of the covers are by men. But here is one by Linda Kosut performing in California.

    After this post was initially published, singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave covered “Red River Shore” on his album, Depending on the Distance (2012). Below is the excellent version from that album.

    In another video after this post’s original publication, an artist named Kape does a nice version too. I cannot find much about him from the Internet, but he appears to be from Sweden.

    Finally, my favorite cover may be this version of “Red River Shore” by lornisply with a guy playing an electric piano in his home. He has a good voice and seems to connect to the song. And there is something about the simple weariness of the performance of the melancholy song that makes it believable.

    I know nobody matches the Bob Dylan version, but which cover version do you like best? Leave a comment.

    Life Lessons – From a Pulitzer-Prize Winner, a Country Star, and an American Idol

    Chimesfreedom wishes you a happy and healthy new year with this post about a Pulitzer-Prize winning book interpreted indirectly through song, leaving you with a question to ask yourself every day throughout the new year.

    Although Tim McGraw is not one of my favorite singers, there are times when popular artists record a song that is undeniably clever and catchy.  Popular songs are popular for a reason.  And I cannot help liking his song, “Live Like You Were Dying,” and the way it also relates to one of my favorite books.

    “Live Like You Were Dying” exceeds anything else McGraw has recorded.  Part of the reason may be the somewhat unusual message in the song.  Although traditional country music has a history of delving into deep adult themes, often modern country music ends up as superficial as most pop music.  “Live Like You Were Dying,” though, summarizes one of the lessons from Ernest Becker‘s Pulitzer-prize winning book, Denial of Death.

    Ernest Becker & Our Mortality

    Becker’s book touches on several themes, but a principal theme may be summarized (in a somewhat oversimplified way for a short blog post):  (1) human beings are intelligent; (2) because we are intelligent, we are faced with the knowledge that we are rotting pieces of animal flesh that will someday die; (3) this knowledge of our mortality is overwhelming, so we push the knowledge to our subconscious; (4) to help us deal with our knowledge of mortality, we latch onto various cultural devices that help us suppress our fear of death — such as activities that subconsciously make us feel immortal, like rooting for sports teams, shopping, exuberant patriotism, writing a blog, raising children, etc.

    There are both upsides and downsides to our subconscious quest for immortality.  It may drive us to do things that benefit others, but it also may make us subconsciously hostile to others who have belief systems different from us.  If you believe something different than I do, you threaten the subconscious protections I have created as a shield against my mortality.  In the last few decades, “Terror Management Theory” psychologists have done significant research regarding how these theories affect our real world interactions.

    Ernest Becker’s books, in particular Denial of Death and Escape from Evil, explain the theories in more detail.  But his work is based on philosophers, psychologists, scientists, etc. going back more than a century.

    What does all this have to do with a pop song by a country superstar?  Although there is an aspect of Becker’s work that initially sounds depressing, there is an uplifting side, and that is portrayed rather well in the song.  One of Becker’s points is that if you are consciously aware of reality — including one’s mortality and the ways we may try to suppress it — then it may help you embrace life and more accurately assess value to the things in our life.

    Live Like You Were Dying

    “Live Like You Were Dying” begins with a friend in his early 40’s telling the narrator about getting bad news from the doctor relating to his x-rays (otherwise the song is vague about the exact nature of the disease).  The narrator “asked him when it sank in,/That this might really be the real end?/ How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news? /Man whatcha do?”

    The friend, instead of responding about being angry or depressed, tells the narrator in the chorus of the song:

    An’ he said: “I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
    “I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
    “And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
    “And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.”
    An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,
    “To live like you were dyin’.”

    The friend then explains how he became a better husband, a better friend, and a better son.  The chorus repeats with the friend restating the wish about hoping that the narrator gets the chance “To live like you were dyin’,” explaining in the bridge, as the music builds:

    Like tomorrow was a gift,
    And you got eternity,
    To think about what you’d do with it.
    An’ what did you do with it?
    An’ what can I do with it?
    An’ what would I do with it?

    Although the song was written by songwriter Tim Nichols and not by Tim McGraw, the video reflects McGraw’s connection to the song.  In the final chorus, starting at around the 3:00 mark, you see a Phillies pitcher throwing a strikeout to Willie Wilson of the Royals to win the 1980 World Series.  The image is not there because McGraw is a Phillies fan or because he hates the Royals; that’s his dad Tug McGraw on the mound.

    Tug fathered Tim as the result of an affair and they did not have a relationship until Tim was a teenager.  But the two became close later in life.  Tug McGraw passed away from a brain tumor in early 2004, and Tim McGraw recorded “Live Like You Were Dying” later in the year in memory of his father.

    In the song, because the friend is talking to the narrator, the singer is singing the questions to us.  So, you are asked, if you knew that each day was precious and you were dying, what would you do?  The question is relevant to all of us.

    As Ernest Becker explained, we each only have a limited number of days to live.  More than 56 billion people in the world died between Jan 1, 2010 and Jan. 1, 2011, with most enjoying last New Year’s Day not knowing it was their last. Many of us will not be here a year from today.

    Our time here is short, and each day we are closer to death, giving us the opportunity to live like we are dying — instead of just dying. This new year, each month, and each day, including today, is a gift.

    What can you do with it?

    What are you going to do with it?

    Live Like We’re Dying

    Bonus American Idol Copy of Idea and Song Title: In 2009, American Idol winner Kris Allen recorded a song with a very similar title and similar theme to Tim McGraw’s song.  Allen’s song, entitled “Live Like We’re Dying,” repeats the theme of McGraw’s “Live Like You’re Dying” with a riff that may be more catchy to those turned off by men wearing cowboy hats when they sing.

    We only got 86 400 seconds in a day to
    Turn it all around or to throw it all away
    We gotta tell ’em that we love ’em while we got the chance to say
    Gotta live like we’re dying

    The song, written by four writers, is more generic than the McGraw song.  It tries to send a similar message without the personal story of the country song.

    Oa recent road trip, I heard the song late at night driving through New Jersey, and the catchy tune did get stuck in my head.  But the meaning behind the song is not as emotionally powerful as in the personal story of the country song. Give it a listen.

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    Have a Safe New Year’s Eve (Billy the Kid Rises Again)

    Today it was announced that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will not pardon Billy the Kid. People debated this year whether Billy the Kid should be pardoned. The debate was based on a deal that Billy allegedly had made with the territorial governor in exchange for testimony in a case.

    According to USA Today, Gov. Richardson, whose term ends at midnight tonight, said that the evidence of the deal was ambiguous, so he chose not to act on the pardon. Others on both sides debated whether or not the evidence was so ambiguous.

    The descendants of the territorial governor and of Pat Garrett, the sheriff who shot and killed Billy the Kid, asserted that they were outraged that Gov. Richardson had considered the pardon. We are invested in the legacy of our families, even for things that happened more than 100 years ago.

    Nobody knows what happened in that secret meeting between Billy the Kid and the territorial governor in March 1879. But, like Tom Petty in the song “Billy the Kid,” Billy keeps getting up in our American imagination.

    Chimesfreedom has been out of town, but we will have a New Year’s Post tomorrow, so be sure to stop by again in the new year.  Thanks for your visits and comments in 2010 as this site has got off the ground, and we look forward to seeing you in 2011!

    May you continue to get up from any adversity in the new year.