Are you a fan of musical comedy? I am. As hokey and as silly as they can sometimes be, they inspire and lift my spirits. Now, when a musical comedy is about sports, I’m “all in” with enthusiasm and singing.
You Gotta Have Heart
None of the musicals I’ve ever seen expresses the theme of optimism like Damn Yankees and the iconic tune, “You Gotta Have Heart.” I’d recommend that if you’re having a miserable, down in the dump’s day, go to YouTube, find the song, turn it way up, and feel a little better. Again, whereas musicals aren’t for everyone, hopefulness should be!
Originally appearing on the Broadway stage in 1955, the musical ran for more than 1,000 performances. The premise of the musical was the improbable story of the wretched Washington Senators taking on the New York Yankees, with lots of side stories here and there.
The old Washington Senators (not the current Washington Nationals!) were abysmal for those who cherish sports history. Their pitching, fielding, and batting were – at best – hapless. The song, “You Gotta Have Heart,” was sung to the given-up-hope players by their manager in the locker room. To this day, it is the ultimate song about optimism. The play itself is an ode to optimism.
From the mid-nineteen fifties through the early part of the sixties, the country was fueled mainly by optimism. All did not realize the American Dream, but the first real movements toward that goal had begun. That, in itself, was optimistic.
“You Gotta Have Heart” was the theme song of the era and encapsulated that optimism.
Pain Changes People
It is sixty-five years later, and optimism has fallen through the floor. Terina Allen writing for Forbes magazine (May 14, 2020) said:
“People are anxious right now, and many have become depressed. Depression is rising in children, in younger and older adults and the employed and the unemployed. It is on the rise with both blue-collar and white-collar workers, and it is on the rise with low-income and high-income earners and everyone in between.”
The article also notes that drinking is on the rise. Many people are reportedly drinking from home during business hours, lost in depression.
Pandemics, societal shifts, strained race relations, unemployment, the stock market, and on and on, seems to have crushed the American sense of optimism.
On August 29, 2019, The Washington Post ran an article entitled: Here’s a new reason to be an optimist: You’re likely to live longer, study says. According to the report:
“Boston-area scientists found the most optimistic people live an average of 11 to 15 percent longer than their more pessimistic peers. Women who are optimists are 50 percent more likely to live at least to age 85, while male optimists are 70 percent more likely to live that long.” We need to be optimistic.
Some writers argue that a healthy dose of pessimism is not exactly a bad thing. They point to the fact that pessimists tend to be more careful than optimists. OK, I’ll grant that I don’t know too many bungee jumping pessimists, but all of that said, where has optimism gone, and how do we get it back? I think the song “You Gotta Have Heart” gives us a clue and a solution.
A Decade Removed
Damn Yankees exploded on the theater scene only a decade past the conclusion of WWII. Most in the audience had experienced The Great Depression, diseases such as polio, the fear of the nuclear bomb, two wars, terrible international tragedies, and inflation.
Why were they not depressed and pessimistic? I think it’s because they never lost the ability to hope.
To quote just one stanza from the song:
“You’ve gotta have hope
Mustn’t sit around and mope
Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear
Wait’ll next year and hope.”
Hope, in my view, is the key to optimism. The people in the audience for those more than 1,000 performances looked back and realized that out of every tragedy they had endured, there was at least some silver lining that appeared.
I was blessed to have known many WWII veterans. They were, to a man and woman, grateful and optimistic. They remembered their hardships and realized that while living through it was terrible, they always believed that they would endure sacrifice, faith, love, and purpose.
Their hope came from the conviction that they could endure any sacrifice; that with faith, they would always be protected; with the love of family, they had a connection and with a purpose-driven life that everything would work out for the best.
Our optimism has not been lost, it merely needs renewal and nurturing. When I hear of those for whom the wearing of a simple cloth mask is “too much to bear,” I think of how the WWII generation would have viewed them, or how they would have regarded those “too cool to have faith,” or those with 500 Facebook Friends, but estranged from their families; or those whose highest aspiration is simply to “hang-out,” and not have a purpose.
You Gotta Have Heart. It leads to hope, and it opens up to optimism. There’s nothing to it, but to do it, you have to stop moping and start hoping!