I got to this song because I was thinking about posting some of the music from the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes cartoons. The connection is that the first time I ever heard “Beautiful Dreamer” was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. As a result, it’s forever linked in my mind with childhood and happiness.
It’s not really a very happy song, though. It was published after Stephen Foster’s death, but it was probably written a couple of years before the composer died. The beautiful dreamer the song is addressed to may in fact be dead; it wasn’t unusual for Foster to write about young women who were no longer among the living. It also wasn’t unusual for his songs to show up in Warner Brothers cartoons. Foster’s music is among the most popular American music ever written.
But I wonder how many young people still know it. Pete Seeger sang many folk standards, and made it a point to have his audiences sing along. There was a time when most people knew the same songs. Now I can understand that many of these songs have fallen out of fashion, and that’s fine. Styles and tastes change. But there is no longer a common musical language. In fact, there really isn’t a common cultural language anymore. My generation might have been the last to have a single defining cultural moment, with the release of Star Wars in May 1977. Today, there is more choice and diversity–which is good. But it means that people have fewer touchstones in common. The old songs don’t get passed on the way they used to. There’s a new blockbuster movie breaking records every summer. Television has so many channels and viewing modes, that the idea of discussing “Who shot J.R?” while waiting for the new season is completely alien to today’s audiences (FYI: it was Kristen). Come to think of it, the Fall television season is also nothing more than a quaint notion these days; no one gets summer reruns anymore, which would mean shows like All in the Family, M*A*S*H, and Hill Street Blues never would’ve found audiences. With everyone expecting immediate gratification/results these days, those shows would’ve been cancelled after a couple of episodes. Everything is about niches these days, which has its advantages. But we lose something wonderful in the process.
I’m the first one to admit that I buck pretty much every trend there is. But just knowing about the same music and movies and television creates a commonality and community with the rest of the world that I think is pretty valuable. We don’t have that anymore. And while it’s fun to have little cultural references that only members of the clique will understand, it’s amazing to have something in common with just about everybody else. It brings people together, and that’s something we could use a little more of these days.