Book Three Synopsis

Series Overview | Dead Serious and Lighthearted |

DEAD SERIOUS AND LIGHTHEARTED
The Memorable Words of Modern America

(Three Volumes)

Volume I: 1957-1976

Volume II: 1977-1993

Volume III: 1994-2015

The three-volume work, Dead Serious and Lighthearted follows Book One (The Relevance of Reason – The Hard Facts and Real Data About the State of Current America – Business and Politics (Published July, 2013)) and Book Two (The Relevance of Reason – Society and Culture (October, 2013). They are the next books in the The Chance of a Lifetime… series.

These books present the carefully selected “Memorable Words.” The books rest upon the observation that too often in America history and for a number of reasons, history is poorly taught and rarely learned. Even more dangerously, history is increasingly viewed by some as irrelevant in our ever-accelerating society.

Thus, the three volumes, Dead Serious and Lighthearted – The Memorable Words of Modern America, seek to present the history of Modern America in a radically new and more engaging way. The structure and content of the books are premised upon the belief that the history Modern America can be encapsulated by the orderly and chronologically presented “Memorable Words” of our country. Through the presentation of these words — both the “dead serious” and the “light-hearted” together with a brief narrative identifying (i) the speaker or writer, (ii) the date and place of initial presentation of the words, and (iii) the context and meaning and historic implication of such words, Americans may be able to, depending upon one’s age, either recall and remember such words or learn better (and, very bluntly, more easily) our recent history.

Certain words, the “Memorable Words” of Modern America have a special place in our recent American history. These words have the capacity to help us better know our history and better appreciate our country.

The original scripting of such Memorable Words by the original speaker or writer and the reasons for their historic import of their words vary greatly. Some words were planned. Some were tightly scripted, thoroughly edited, and carefully presented. Others are emotive and spontaneous. But regardless of the planned or spontaneous nature of their origin, these Memorable Words have become (or deserve to become) a part of the history of Modern America for many reasons — because of the identity of the speaker; because of the context of the moment; or because of the sheer eloquence, raw passion, or deep resonance of the words themselves. In a few instances, Memorable Words have been included for other reasons — because of something which they revealed about the speaker of the subject; because they added texture, excitement, and color to our lives; because, in retrospect, they were meaningful in building national consensus about a given subject, or because the prescience of the then-spoken or written words have been revealed with the passage of time.

Thus and as is evident, the concept of Memorable Words is very different from the more common assemblage of “great quotes.” Great quotes are normally chosen due to their wit, general wisdom or insightfulness or merely in recognition of their cleverness or humor. But the concept of Memorable Words is very different and more complicated. The words are not necessarily deemed “memorable” because of their accuracy, cleverness, or even because of their substance. Instead, they are deemed memorable due to the identity of the speaker, the place or setting in which the words were first spoken or written; the situation or circumstances to which the words relate; the uniqueness of the words’ oratory, passion, wisdom, the eloquence; by the degree to which the words allowed us to open our minds and sometimes our hearts; or because of the words’ unique timeliness or their long-echoing impact; and, as noted above, in more than a few cases, because of what the words revealed about the speaker or the subject.

As suggested by the title of this book, Dead Serious and Lighthearted, these words come in all varieties — the good, the bad, and the ugly; the heavy and the light; the hurtful and the heartfelt; the inspirational and the ominous, the joyous and the sad. In nearly every instance, there is nuance and context to be understood in order to fully grasp their import. As such and although there is almost always more to the story, in the opinion of many Americans, these words, at some given point in time, “said it all” or “got it right” or “revealed the truth.” Collectively and as here presented, these words reveal much about our country – where we have been, where we were, and where we (thought we) were going.

Older Americans, who were alive at the time these words were first spoken or written, may recall many of the words. However, younger Americans may have only heard or read some of these words as a part of their education and schooling. But whatever the basis of one’s recall, these words are – and should be – long remembered since for many and varied reasons, they have pierced the ether. They have outlasted thousands of news cycles and decades of American life. They have etched their way into the record of our history.

In one sense, it’s unsurprising that such words have such a powerful call upon our memories since words are our primary means of expression, communication, and explanation. As such, words are among the strongest pieces of our collective history. They are one of the major component bricks by which we narrate our own story although admittedly we communicate in many other ways as well — by how we behave; by what we do, by what we ignore; by what we remember, and by what we forget. More subtly, we also use our words to articulate our accomplishments and acknowledge our shortcomings; to define the allocation of our resources; to teach our young, and express respect for our elderly.

Any assemblage of words has its limits, and it’s impossible to “know” a nation merely through a study of the words of its people and its leaders. No assemblage of words can portray the pain of war, the joy of peace, or the evil of 9/11. No assemblage of words can fully articulate the awe of the first moon landing, the beauty of art, or even, in some cases, mimic the emotive powers of photography or film. On a lighter note, no assemblage of words will ever allow us to ever “know” our crazy uncle, understand Andy Warhol’s art, grasp the egotism of some leaders, or fully comprehend the eccentricities of America’s celebrities or even the weird guy down the street. But they can help. Eventually, stories are told and most history is learned or remembered by the words. Even in the wide-screen, technicolor, highly visual and viral age in which we live, we eventually get back to words. They are a huge part of our legacy. As will be seen in these books, the words always linger longer than the voices.

The criteria for the selection of “memorable words” is articulated in detail in the books, but, for now, let it just be noted that careful narrowing was necessary since, obviously, not all words are the same. In fact, very bluntly, most words don’t matter. Most words are hellos and good-byes, sidewalk greetings and elevator chitchat; sweet nothings and social pleasantries, celebrity babble and the bosses’ orders; and all of the rest of the gibberish of American life. Nothing to be long remembered. No notes to be taken.[i] Regrettably, it is also a fact of life that even most of the thoughtfully written, carefully chosen words of experts and analysts remain forever buried deep in the texts of reports, analyses, journals, and books.

Nevertheless, some words surface; some words survive; some word make an impact; some words do matter. It is these words that are included – those words which are special, powerful, and meaningful, which take us back over the distance of time; which still trigger our emotions, refresh our memories, and even many years later, still inflame our passions and move us to action. And since America, just like its people, has aged, it is not always easy to remember. What was said, at the time and by whom, may help us remember and better understand our own past.

Footnote: [i]    Almost as a matter of idle curiosity, it is interesting to note that there are also vast differences among people and among genders. Some people speak constantly. Others hardly at all. Women speak substantially more than men – roughly 20,000 words per day as compared with the estimated male average of 7,000 words per day. Amongst all people, it is estimated that people speak about 16,000 per day.[i] Using this rough average of 16,000 words per day and the average U.S. life expectancy of 78.7 years (76 years for men and 81 years for women), the average American will speak approximately 6,000,000 words a year and 459,600,000,000 words over the course of their lifetime. And although no one’s really counting, some sorting out of the memorable words – and the rest — becomes necessary.