Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

Don’t Fence Cole Porter In

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

This week’s Free Ride* muses on the songs of the great musical theatre composer and lyricist, Cole Porter, born this day in 1891. As one of the principle contributors to what is commonly called the great American songbook, it is ironic that he was as much or more at home in Paris than in the U.S., spending much of his life there. His extravagant and raucous lifestyle, including wide license with sexuality, was far more acceptable in French society. This gives added significance to the most famous and widely covered of his contributions to the repertoire of freedom, an old cowboy song he bought and re-worked for Hollywood, Don’t Fence Me In.

Oh, give me land, lots of land,
under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride thru the wide-open
country that I love
Don’t fence me in
Let me be by myself
in the evening breeze
Listen to the murmur
of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever,
but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in

On the other end of the fame and wide-coverage spectrum is an equally interesting song, a critique of the intolerant, puritanical spirit he experienced in America. Written in Paris and never recorded in our country, Lost Liberty Blues is sung from the point of view of the French gift to America, the Statue of Liberty, lamenting that the liberty for which she stands is not fully embraced by the populace.

As you sail away on your holiday,
take a last little look at me,
I’m an innocent,
public monument,
called the statue of liberty,
and I am a slave in the home
of the brave and land of the free,
now once my country friends
had a yank romance,
so they gave me to Uncle Sam,
but he treats me so,
that I no longer know
what I’m meant for or who I am,
he’s made a mess of my chance of success,
and I’m not worth a damn,
I’ve got those lost liberty blues,
where a pair of handcuffs on my wrist,
and pad locks on my shoes,
can you expect me to be gay,
or ask me to enthuse.
while reformers lead ‘em
from the battle cry of freedom,
to the lost liberty,
lost liberty blues

It’s quite a critique. Ironically, though, on the positive side, we can see a sure sign of the liberty of our land in how much Cole Porter songs were enthusiastically embraced here in the first half of the 20th century. The quintessential patriot Irving Berlin was one of his most vocal cheerleaders, and American singers as diverse as Roy Rogers, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Ethel Merman and Willie Nelson have made his music popular with many different audiences. May the Statue of Liberty wave the torch in his memory today, and may we learn from his songs to resist all puritanical temptations to fence people in here in the land of the free.

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Comments

  • June 10, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Ah yes, I do remember his songs. Does that date me? I find it most interesting that his spirit was so free that he loved Paris above the USA. It seems that our country is reverting back to its puritanical ways when I hear some of the politicians today. How I long for that freedom of spirit for our people–yet not so free that we lack responsibility for one another. We are indeed our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

    Comment by Janet Davies

  • June 11, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks for your good thoughts and insights, Janet.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • September 2, 2014 at 11:15 am

    [...] The Depression Years. A purveyor of self-excess, he hosted lavish parties at his Paris home. With rumors of sexual forays and drug use, Porter was both creative genius and pleasure-seeker. Much of his life involved balancing the two, [...]

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