My song today is ‘Ain’t That A Shame’. This is a song written by Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. The record was released in 1955 and eventually sold more than a million records. Domino's recording of the song reached Number 1 on the ‘Billboard R&R’ chart and Number 10 on the ‘Billboard Pop Chart’. The song is ranked number 438 on Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ list.
The song gained national fame after being re-recorded by Pat Boone. Domino's version soon became more popular, bringing his music to the mass market a half-dozen years after his first recording, ‘The Fat Man’. The song has also been covered by the ‘Four Seasons’ and John Lennon.
‘Ain’t that a shame’ was one of those expressions that was very common during the ‘Second World War’ years and during my early development. It was eventually supplanted in the 1960s and 1970s with the expression, ‘Poor you’, which essentially meant the same thing. Then, as the years advanced to the 1990s and we approached the New Millennium era, the saying that supplanted ‘Poor you’ to echo the same situation as previous was a more coarsened version, ‘Tough shit’. By 2010, this saying had been replaced by the more observational and self-evident statement of, ‘Shit happens!’
In the above illustration of the generational changes to our language between 1945 and 2020, one can see how far away from the values and norms of our parents and grandparent’s age we have travelled. We have effectively shunned and discarded the values of our past in favour of a more coarsened, selfish and individualised ‘Me, me’ way of life.
Some may say, ‘It’s only words’, as if words don’t matter when they clearly do. Words matter much more than we could ever imagine. Words are the means of communication we use to transport and carry one’s emotions and true intent. In simple behavioural terms, we think, we feel and then we do, in that order. When we think positively, we feel positive and are more likely to act positively. Correspondingly, when we think negatively, we feel negative and are more likely to act in a negative manner. We effectively bring about our own successes and our own failures, and we influence our happy and sad moods by the way we think and the words we speak (especially our self-talk).
Just as our original saying of ‘Ain’t that a shame’ and ‘Poor you’ was specifically directed towards the feelings of the disappointed person, the later sayings of ‘Tough shit’ and ‘Shit happens!’ speaks not ‘to’ the disappointed person’s feelings, but ‘about’ the disappointment observed in the situation. There has been a distinct move away from ‘you’ to ‘me’; a move away from the ‘personal’ to the ‘impersonal’ and more ‘observational’; a move away from the ‘sensitive’ comment to the more ‘selfish’ remark.
As generations experience subtle language changes, each change is often so small at the time as to become discernible, and it is only farther on down the line, we discover that instead of society progressing in a right and proper direction, we’ve blindly used the intervening years pushing each other to hell in a handcart.
If ever you have engaged in the exercise of ‘Chinese Whispers’, you will readily see the huge distinction between the message given at both the start and the end of the process. ‘Chinese Whispers’ requires an audience plus two players at any given time. It starts by the audience presenter giving a brief statement to one of the two players. All the players receiving the message (except player one) are kept out of hearing distance until they come on stage. After the second player comes on stage, they receive the message verbally from the first player. The first player then leaves the stage and a new player comes on stage. The message received by player two is then communicated to player three, and so forth and so forth until a dozen people have received the message.
The initial message passed from player one to player two might be, “ I heard that in any group of five men and four women( all of whom are strangers to each other), that the chances of one of the couples ‘hitting it off’ together is less than 33 per cent, and that the chances of the couple who ‘hit it off’ being of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender (LBGT) status is 23 per cent.”
As the messages continue to be passed from one player to the next player, memory, misunderstanding, mistake, unconscious personal belief and all manner of human traits come into play; and despite the honest intention of all players to accurately convey the message to the next player due to receive it, subtle changes begin to appear each time the message is passed on. It may only be one word added here, missed there or slightly altered, but by the end of the exercise, the mistakes in each message passed on result in the final message being significantly different to the original message whispered in the ear of player one.
Many see the significant changes over the years as inevitable changes of ‘progression in the making’, but not I. I am not foolish enough to deny the true advancements society has made over the past century. We undoubtedly live longer and with fuller bellies and have access to so many new experiences we could not have dreamed of in the immediate post-war years. We undoubtedly have much more to live for today than we ever did, but too few of us appreciate what we have, along with the things we have lost individually, as a family, a community and a people.
There is undoubtedly a lesser sense of ‘community’ today, as the absence of any personal interaction and the deafening silence on a crowded tube train any day of the busy week will testify. Today, men and women going to high-powered jobs, dressed as fashion mannequins, will nonchalantly walk over and around prostrate bodies laid on the sidewalks without giving a second thought to the needs of the homeless, the vagrant, the refugee, the abused runaway teenager and the addict as they continue to speak on their mobiles and drink their costa coffee on the hoof.
Today, we are able to transverse the globe by plane in less than one day and put a man on the moon on a Wednesday and bring him back to earth before the week is out (240,000 miles), there are so many of our parents living in Care Homes whom we might visit only once monthly, just because we either have better things to do in our busy lives or cannot see the point in visiting a parent with advanced dementia who will never again know us as their child. A man or woman in the 1950s would simply have never thought of farming out the nursing of an aged parent who had lost their memory and mind. In the Irish community where I was born, the community considered the mentally incapacitated as ‘holy innocents’; people to cherish and protect. Such unfortunate people were considered as being people to love and not lock away from the eyes and ears of ‘civilised society’.
I will never forget hearing about the man who was asked why he continued to visit his wife who had Alzheimer’s in her Care Home daily, where he would talk to her as though she could understand him, especially when she could not recognise him as her husband of fifty years. His reply was, “She may have forgotten who I am, but I never will forget who she was”.
The more I think upon these changes in society that have moved from a ‘you’ to a ‘me, me’ response since I was born in 1942, the more I am inclined to think, ‘Ain’t that a shame!’
Love and peace Bill xxx