We Need To Get Fred Astaire Back

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Does the world seem to you, as it does to me, to be more than just a little off-kilter these days? The air is filled with histrionics, people’s heads are bouncing from one extreme to another, there are nagging portents of disaster (every time the latest disaster finishes); there is a sense that the guide rails of life have disintegrated, and violence seems to lurk in every shadow. And those are just the better days, when you can see straight. It has seemed to me for the past several years now that God has had His foot heavily on the gas pedal of history, and most of us are without seatbelts.

We sure could use some steady heads: some calm, understated, competent, and genuinely decent people to look to for their example and leadership. And I don’t mean anybody second rate. These times demand the best.

For some reason this came to my benighted mind when I was watching clips of the actor/dancer/singer Fred Astaire on the Dick Cavett show. I’ll try to explain.

There are multiple clips on YouTube of Fred Astaire being interviewed by Dick Cavett, and also performing some songs. The one I’m embedding below particularly struck me. He’s sitting in the interviewee’s chair beside Cavett, and at the point where this starts, the name of Cole Porter has come up, and—as if spontaneously, but certainly not—Fred sings the Porter song “Miss Otis Regrets,” followed by “Night and Day.” Without getting up from his chair, mind you: without going over to stand near the pianist and the rest of the band (as he does on other occasions). It may be watched and enjoyed in the clip right here, beginning at about the 2:55 mark:

For me, it truly calms the soul to watch and listen as Astaire seems to just off-handedly knock out those tunes with such grace and excellence. To do it without leaving his chair makes it seem spontaneous, but it has to be significantly harder to perform with perfect timing when the musicians are at a distance like that. And that’s the theme with Fred Astaire, throughout his incredible career (the twilight of which he was in here): making very difficult things look effortless. Astaire was known for rehearsing to a punishing degree when it came to his dancing, doing take after take of all those famous routines, so that when the audience finally saw it they saw only perfection: a man floating in poetic rhythm without a hint of strain. He could deal with the aches and pains later. There’s no question he rehearsed his songs too, and he certainly rehearsed for these performances on Cavett’s show. He would not do anything sloppily. But the aim of the rehearsal was to deliver in the end to the audience a little bit of pure magic, a seemingly casual rendition of these timeless tunes by one of the great interpreters of popular song. Famously, those great songwriters like Gershwin and Berlin loved it when Fred Astaire would be the singer to debut one of their songs; they thought he just sang them right, the weak pipes notwithstanding (and not-grandstanding either).

Listen to him being interviewed, too, and the charm and grace is there again, but without a trace of glitz. For a man who had seen so much and knew so much, and could say so much, he is utterly unassuming, even shy, with a kind and generous word for everyone. The jokes are self-effacing ones. He’s a gentleman, but one who makes everyone feel more gentle and at ease. He surely makes an all-but-ideal role model, personifying dedication, excellence, good humor and good will towards his fellow man and woman. If only he were around today, it’s impossible to imagine things would be as bad as they are. Not in a world with Fred Astaire.

So, Q.E.D.—we need to get him back. I don’t know if he should be made president or king, but making him the latter would eliminate a lot of complications. And here’s the thing: We have the technology now. With advanced biotech, AI and those new semiconductors, it can certainly be done (and all with renewable energy, I’d bet). There has to be a hairbrush with some of his DNA on it—though admittedly he didn’t have a lot of actual DNA on his head—kept by someone as a memento. There must be something. This is a project that simply has to be pursued, and I’ll post the GoFundMe link first thing tomorrow morning.

As for Dick Cavett, we don’t need to get him back, because he’s still here (at the time of writing). I don’t count myself as one of the biggest fans of his style, but you have to hand it to him: He was there, he seized his moment, and he got interviews with many of the greats who otherwise did not seem to risk such exposure on the small screen. In part, he must have communicated a certain level of safety and comfort, although once or twice he did get under someone’s skin (just ask Lester Maddox, or, um, Randy Newman). If I’m not mistaken, it’s Cavett himself essentially curating the material on the relevant YouTube channel, so now he gets to revive those glory days and profit anew from them.

In any case, all of the Astaire stuff is well worth watching, because—well, I think that’s been covered.

And, while we await his return, there’s likely enough time to watch all his movies again too. Maybe life ain’t so bad after all.