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From Fly Creek

June 19, 2014

'They were out of step but Jim!'

All right, skip the drolleries about the headline. The quote is actually the title of a 1918 song by Irving Berlin, who, with George M. Cohan and other songsmiths, was producing patriotic pieces by the dozen as the Yanks were going “Over There!” 

Our troops were crossing the Atlantic as of 1917. “And about time!” our British friends joke wryly, since the savage war had started in1914. (They have matching jokes about our tardy entry into World War II in 1941. Their World War II began when Hitler invaded Poland in ’39, and the London Blitz had raged through all of ’40.

It took Pearl Harbor to shake us out of isolationism--just as it had taken Germany’s enticing Mexico to join them in attacking the United States to prod us into action in 1917.)

But back to the songs: You probably know some of them. Berlin also wrote, “Oh, How I Hate to Get up in the Morning!” and “Let’s all be Americans Now!” and “We’re on Our Way to France;” and Cohan contributed, “You’re Grand Old Flag!” and “Over There!” and “Johnny, Get Your Gun,” and “Oh, How I Hate to Get up in the Morning!”

Irving Berlin’s, “They Were All Out of Step but Jim!” is perhaps less familiar to you. I’ll fix that.

The story’s line is simple. Young Jim, swept up in patriotism, is in uniform and marching with his regiment up Broadway, on his way to France. The boys all look great; shouldered rifles and jutting chins at exactly the same angle, faces firm with soldierly fortitude.

Except for Jim. He’s distracted by three lovely girls, backs to us on the sheet-music’s lithograph cover; they are waving at Jim, their high-waisted, full skirts billowing in the opposite direction to the line of march. (Great piece of art deco design!)

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