Re: Birth, from Watch the Birdie (Day 51)

If I was proceeding strictly according to the running order of Watch the Birdie, the next song would be Hit Me, but I refer you to one of my first Project 194 posts where I showcased this song and the superlative rock stylings of Alex Keiper.

Re: Birth, like Baby Talk, was created for the AMTF Festival Cabaret in 1985, the year I became a father, and those songs became the seeds that this show grew from. I imagined Re: Birth as a lullaby invaded by a rap song, a tender moment with an infant son who will inevitably have to “toughen up” to withstand the demands of growing up. Stearns Matthews delivers the tender part and Mike Doherty is on the mic for the tough part in the 2008 PMTW production.


The world is you
The world is new
And everything you see
Is for the first time
And every song you hear is a simple song
That doesn’t last for long.
Sleep well,
My little man,
Tomorrow comes all too soon.

The world is wide
Your life untried
And everything you do
Is for the first time.
We cut the cord at birth and set you free
As you may never been again.
My little man,
Tomorrow comes all too soon.

A clean slate,
An enviable state.
Everything pristine and pure
You make me wish I could be born again.
I’ve turned to meditation
And the talking cure
To try to free
The child in me
But, time after time, I’m torn again.

You’ll learn to be a man
You’ll learn to make the team
You’ll learn to stay in line
You’ll learn to walk the beam
You’ll learn to make your mark
You’ll learn to say your name
You’ll learn to keep a secret
And play the game
You’ll learn to toughen up, toughen up, toughen up!
Toughen up, toughen up, toughen up!

You’ll learn a lot of things
Before you go to school
You’ll learn to count to ten
You’ll learn to play it cool
You’ll learn to take your licks
You’ll learn to strut your stuff
You’ll learn to take it easy
And play it tough
You’ll learn to raise your hand
You’ll learn to be polite
And your daddy’s gonna see that you learn it right!
You’ll learn to toughen up, toughen up, toughen up!
Toughen up, toughen up, toughen up!

Bear down, boy, and show some grit
I don’t want to hear no sissy shit
You’ll make me angry if you whimper or whine
Boy, you got to keep yourself in line.
Eye on the ball, feet on the ground
There ain’t no time for fartin’ around
You’re my son, and I expect you to shine
Boy, you got to keep yourself in line.

Don’t take it easy, there’s work to be done
You’ve got to sweat to get to be number one
Nothing important every came without a strain.
No pain, no gain!

Stay on your toes, don’t drop your guard
The ladies like it when a man is hard
If you want to call yourself a son of mine,
Then boy, you better keep yourself in line
You better toughen up, toughen up, toughen up!
Toughen up, toughen up, toughen up! (repeat)
Yes, sir!

Ferdinand the BullI think audiences have always been a bit perplexed by this song. You can hear some nervous giggles in the reactions on the track I posted, though some of that may have been Mike Doh’s friends in the audience gleefully reacting to his over-the-top hard-assness. The appropriation of rap music to represent the cruelty of masculinity sails awfully near the edge of racism when performed by a white singer; I wonder whether the song would land differently if performed by a black man. A few years later, I recycled the last few stanzas of the rap (“Bear down, boy…”) and made a song called “Keep Yourself In Line” for a father character who sings with a Randy Newman-ish swagger. There’s no doubt about it, I’ve always been a sissy – that is, I’ve always been repelled by the coarse stereotypes of masculine behavior I see around me – and yet I worry that I’m not tough enough, driven enough, to succeed in a competitive man’s world. I tend to be more like Ferdinand the Bull, sniffing the flowers rather than goring the matador. I know I have to cultivate my “inner warrior,” as do my sons and my students, but must I sacrifice my tender, artsy tendencies to do that successfully? Being the father of a very young son made me painfully aware of that conundrum.

If you missed them, these are the songs already posted on Project 194; the links on the right are songs chosen at random from previous posts. Want to contribute to my interactive composition, “Hear My Song?” Read more here. Want to receive daily songs delivered direct to your inbox? Sign up here!

One thought on “Re: Birth, from Watch the Birdie (Day 51)

  1. Pingback: Be A Man, from Assassins (Day 119) | Notes from a SAVI Savant

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