Evanston RoundTable, July 29, 2020
Such a shock to turn on the radio and hear: “I’m so afraid of goin’ out, and I’m so tired of stayin’ in…”
So modern, so contemporary, so pandemic-afraid and quarantine-fatigued. Yet it was on the ’40s station, a song called “When They Ask About You,” written in 1943 by Sammy Stept and performed by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra with vocalist Kitty Kallen. The stanza goes:
I’m so afraid of goin’ out
And I’m so tired of stayin’ in;
My future doesn’t look serene,
’Cause every time that I go out
I wish that I’d stayed in!
It’s always the same routine.
Turns out the singer is simply tired of being asked about her former lover. She goes on to sing:
“What’s the good if I say
That you and I are through?
I tell them you’re away,
When they ask about you.”
In other words, not contemporary at all, just the romantic misfortunes of a bygone lass in a long-ago era. Things seem far worse today, with the threat of steep recession and the global pandemic. And don’t forget runaway climate change and a runaway national debt.
Yet as bad as we have it now, hard times always seem to find our door.
A century ago World War I and the influenza pandemic took a combined toll of almost 800,000 American lives. The Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s was a financial disaster, triggering a huge decline in U.S. industrial production and gross domestic product. Unemployment at its worst exceeded 20%, vs. 11% now.
“We thought American business was the Rock of Gibraltar,” said songwriter Yip Harburg. “We were the prosperous nation and nothing could stop us … Suddenly the big dream exploded.”
The Depression lasted until World War II, in which almost half a million American soldiers died. The home front suffered grievously. One man recalled “…gas rationing, the sugar stamps, the coffee stamps. The ladies couldn’t get nylons. And then we’d have all these scrap drives. Everything was to do with the war, from buying savings stamps, savings bonds, our whole life changed completely is the way I remember it.”
The 1950s saw the end of the Korean War, in which almost 40,000 American soldiers died, and the start of the Cold War, during which Russia and America stockpiled more than 100,000 nuclear warheads, enough to wipe out the planet many times over.
The 1960s and ’70s saw massive political turmoil over the war in Vietnam (58,000 more deaths), assassinations and campus unrest.
After a brief respite of peace, 9/11 unleashed war in the middle east that continues to this day. And the COVID pandemic has already taken more than 140,000 American lives and threatens to impose the worst economic losses around the world since the Depression.
Is there any hope for peace and prosperity? Sure, but it looks like it will be a long time coming. Meanwhile we can all join Kitty Kallen and sing, “I’m so afraid of goin’ out, and I’m so tired of stayin’ in…