Friday, December 19, 2008

Talkin' 'bout My Generation

Got into a conversation with another stagehand about personal influences (as opposed to being under the influence which is another frequent topic of conversation) and went online to reference some book titles I vaguely recalled. This lead me back to times and places when I was growing up and the speeches I’ve heard. Obama is such an inspiring speaker and, as such, a terrific actor. I hear echoes of other speeches that were electrifing calls to action. Henry V Act III Once more unto the breach. John Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural Address still has the power to move. Tom Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath”, “where ever there’s a guy getting beat up by a cop, I’ll be there” was a quieter, low-key speech but still stirring. I got to thinking about some of the speeches that formed my generation and me. Not to sound like a Billy Joel song but there were some moving calls to action during our terrible times of turmoil.

I can vaguely recall John Kennedy’s inauguration and a little better the muted Requiem Mass. Everyone’s seen the stirring cadences of Dr. King and the I Have A Dream speech in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. A few years later was an angry Mario Savio calling for resistance instead of pacifism on Sproul Hall steps in Berkeley.

Nobody has tried to levitate the Pentagon lately though it thoroughly deserves it. As chronicled in Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night, the speeches from the 1967 March on the Pentagon were filled with anger, impudence and denouncement.

In my opinion the finest speeches I ever heard is Mario Cuomo's 1984 Convention Speech. Watch it again because it could almost be used intact, today.

Good oration is good theatre. It can stir a soul to do amazing things, move people in profound ways. I look forward to the next four years.

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