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'I'm Still...' What!?
by June Abernathy

“I'm Still Here” is more than just a showstopping number in Stephen Sondheim's Follies. It is a cultural roadmap of the American fads, media darlings, politics, and excess of the last century.

Carlotta Campion has been through it all, and she has been brought to life by such great ladies of the stage as Yvonne De Carlo, Nancy Walker, Carol Burnett, Shirley MacLaine, and Ann Miller. Told by a character who has "seen it all", and sung by an Actress whose actual life adds reality and resonance, if it has been cast well, this song strikes a chord with every audience member.

Those who have "been there" a bit themselves can identify, full of the knowledge that they, too, are "still here". Those who are too young to have gone through the mill themselves can still admire the guts and determination of someone who has, and has lived to tell about it - to sing about it - with electrifying passion. Unfortunately, as time marches on, there are less and less people who understand the references in the lyrics - it has become a bit of a trivia game to get them all.

Yet understanding them gives the listener added depth and context that make it worth the hunt. So, to help out, I've assembled a breakdown of the sometimes obscure references in “I'm Still Here”:


Good times and bum times,
Iíve seen them all and, my dear,
Iím still here.

Plush velvet sometimes,
Sometimes just pretzels and beer,
But Iím here.

Iíve stuffed the Dailies in my shoes,


Dailies Ė Daily newspapers, to replace the soles in worn out shoes.


Strummed Ukuleles,


"Ukuleles" - A Hawaiian instument which became a popular fad on the mainland in the 1920ís.


Sung the Blues,
Seen all my dreams disappear,
But Iím here.

Iíve slept in shanties,
Guest of the W.P.A.,


"W.P.A." - Work Projects Administration (1935Ė43). U.S. government agency during the New Deal. The WPA undertook extensive building and improvement projects to provide work for the unemployed.


But Iím here.

...

Iíve been through Gandhi,


"Gandhi" - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (a.k.a. Mahatma) (1869-1948) Indian nationalist and spiritual Leader who developed the practice of nonviolent disobedience that forced Great Britain to grant independence to India in 1947. His philosophy was embraced by civil rights activists in the U.S. during the 1960ís.


Windsor and Wallyís affair,


"Windsor and Wallyís affair" Ė a reference to an affair between King Edward VII, reigning King of England in 1936, and Wallis Warfield Simpson, an American divorcee. He abdicated the throne in order to marry her in 1937, and was granted the title of Duke of Windsor.


And Iím here.

Amos Ďn Andy,


"Amos Ďn Andy" - A popular show about the comic lives of two hapless black men which began on the radio in 1929 (with white actors), was made into a TV show in 1949 (with black actors), and finally pulled off the air in 1965 due to protests about the showís stereotypical depiction of blacks.


Mahjongg and Platinum hair,


"Mahjongg" - A chinese tile game which became very popular in the suburban US in the 1920ís.


And Iím here.


I got through "Abieís Irish Rose


"Abieís Irish Rose" - A play which opened in 1922 and ran for a then unheard of 2,532 performances.


Five Dionne Babies,


"Five Dionne Babies" - The Dionne Quintuplets, a multiple birth that made headlines in 1934.


Major Bowes,


"Major Bowes" - Produced and hosted a popular Amateur Hour on radio.


Had Heebie-Jeebies
For Beebeís Bathysphere


"Beebeís Bathysphere" - William Beebe invented the Bathysphere, a reinforced steel deep Water diving chamber which he took down to record depths in 1934.


I got through Brenda Frazier,


"Brenda Frazier" - Popular debutante and spoiled rich girl who regularly made the papers for a variety of romps which illustrated how well some segments of society were living while others starved.


(Alternative lyric:)
I've lived through Shirley Temple,


"Shirley Temple" - Child actress who attained monumental fame and adoration during the depression. (This line was changed as of the 1987 London revival of Follies, as a better known reference- particularly to non-Americans).


And I'm here.

Iíve gotten through Herbert and J. Edgar Hoover,


"Herbert (Hoover)" - President of the US from 1928 to 1934. Blamed by many For the Depression. (No relation to J. Edgar Hoover).


"J. Edgar Hoover" - Head of the FBI from 1921 until his death in 1972. Known for fighting gangsters during Prohibition, although the reference here is probably more for his anti-Communist campaign after WWII, which led to unfortunate blacklisting, the "red scare", and, to a certain extent, the US involvement in the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. Since his death, evidence of cross dressing and possible homosexuality have made the reference all the more ironic.


...

Iíve been through Reno,


"Reno" - Reno, Nevada. Known as a place to obtain a quick and easy divorce.


Iíve been through Beverly Hills,
And Iím here.

Reefers and Vino,.


"Reefers" Ė Marijuana cigarettes


"Vino" - Wine


Rest cures, religion and pills,
But Iím here.

Been called a pinko
Commie tool,


"Pinko Commie tool" - Reference to the "red scare" of the early 1950's. Senator Joseph McCarthy formed a "House UnAmerican Activities Committee", and accused various Government officials, entertainers, and detractors of being Communists out to destroy the US. He was discredited and censured by congress in 1954 after destroying a number of lives and careers.


...

Black sable one day,
Next day it goes into hock,


"hock" - Sold to a pawnbroker for cash


But Iím here.

Top billing Monday,


"Top billing" - The first name listed in the credits of a show. The Star.


Tuesday youíre touring in stock,


"stock" - Summer Stock, or more generally, theatre outside of NYC.


But Iím here.

...

Iíve run the gamut,
A to Z.
Three cheers and dammit,
Cíest La Vie.


"Cíest La Vie" - French for "thatís life". Indicative of a carefree lifestyle.


I got through all of last year,
And Iím here.

Lord knows, at least Iíve been there,
And Iím here!
Look whoís here!
Iím still here!



“I'm Still Here”
© 1971 Rilting Music
All rights administered by WB Music Corp.
All Rights Reserved.

 

   


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