Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Button Up Your Overcoat


“Brush your teeth.” These were the last words a friend’s dying mother spoke to him. He was a young man of 20 and often speaks of it as a disappointing ending to a difficult relationship. However, having just come from the dentist, it didn’t seem like bad parting words. (Not that I don’t brush my teeth. I do twice a day and dental floss too and have for 40 years, but it still doesn’t stop my mouth from being a field day for the forces of decay.) It was a mother’s way of saying “take care of yourself,” an oblique expression of love. For what better way to show someone you care then remind them to take care of this precious body on loan.

One of the fun songs I sing with kids and seniors alike is the old jazz tune “Button Up Your Overcoat.” In light of the dentist visit and the bathroom scales screaming at me, “Eat less. Exercise more,” it’s a good song to consider. Let’s take it line by line.

Button up your overcoat, when the wind is free

Sound advice. Especially for San Francisco, when the wind is often way too free for anyone’s taste.

Take good care of yourself, you belong to me.

Well, perhaps a little too Western-consumer-based-ownership-oriented for my taste, but another way to say “I care.”

Eat an apple every day

Fruit is always good and apples help clean the teeth (is this where I went wrong?).

Get to bed by three

In the morning? Afternoon? Either way, throws a wrench into the otherwise solid suggestions, all for the sake of a rhyme.

Take good care of yourself, you belong to me.

Got it. On to the bridge! * (Which is what my dentist is recommending.)

Be careful crossing streets.

A serious reminder to people checking their text messages while crossing streets.

Don’t eat meats.

A vegetarian for some 15 years and a chickentarian for the rest, I’ve mostly followed this. And after hearing a radio interview about the film Forks Over Knives, it helped confirm my choice. Of course, Frances Moore Lappe said it all in the 70’s with Diet for a Small Planet, but the above film is sending out a convincing message, much of it a plea to avoid cardio-vascular disease.

Cut out sweets.

On my recent reform list and my dentist (and belly) will be happy about that. But starting with “reduce.”

You’ll get a pain and ruin your tum-tum.

I can vouch for the latter, size-wise.

Keep away from bootleg hootch, when you’re on a spree

Not sure whether they’re advocating less or no alcohol or just staying on the right side of the law. In the first instance, I’m still a half-a-beer-a-day-and-cork-the-bottle-for-tomorrow guy. In the second, my philosophy is situational.

Take good care of yourself, you belong to me.

One could also read the “me” as a spiritual presence beyond the ego. The old idea that the body is a temple dedicated to the cultivation of the spirit. All the exercise and diet and skin care not for vanity or sexy poses on magazines or to living up to some media-manipulated idea of the ideal body, but in service of offering your service to the world.

So take good care of yourself and enjoy singing the song. (After all, music is another doorway to health and balance.)

 And of course, don’t forget to brush your teeth.


* PS The bridge is the B section in a song, with a change of text, melody and harmony. 

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