Jobs For Retired Generals
Academy Records Holiday Inn, threewalls, Chicago, 2010
"What Can You Do With A General" (Bing Crosby version)
Jobs For Retired Generals is a cover song of What Can You Do With A General from the 1954 film, White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby. It was presented at The Academy Records: Holiday Inn, a benefit for threewalls.
Instead of doing a traditional musical "rendition" of this song, I thought I'd take a literal approach and, taking a cue from the lyrics, hold a job fair for unemployed and retired United States generals.
The booth had a curtain system that references the curtain Bing Crosby stood in front of as he sang What Can You Do With A General in the movie. There was a display monitor on the table where I animated all the lyrics from the song. There were clipboards with job applications and a bin to turn in completed applications (and yes, people filled them out, although no real generals showed up or filled one out). There were flowers on the table referencing the flowers behind Bing Crosby as he sang the song. There was an original logo I created and screen-printed on the curtain; and lyrics from the last line of the song printed on the table cover. There were give-away pens for the taking with a Jobs For Retired Generals imprint. There were business cards and table signs...
The idea of an unemployed general may have been somewhat realistic in 1945 post-war America, but I knew this idea was kind of an impossible concept in 2010. A retired general can do any number of things, nowadays.
Check out retired general Tommy Franks' 4 Star Ranch website
I approached making this piece from the beginning by deciding that it would be about impossibility, rather than generals.
In regards to this impossibility of this piece, I thought:
...of the impossibility of escaping President Eisenhower's warning against the rise of the military-industrial complex in his well known fair-well speech.
...about the impossibility of musicals, and how the characters in these films (who have usually seemingly just met) bust into song and dance as if it were their destiny to do these songs and dances. How the performances just "happen" outside the context of hours and hours of choreography, training and rehearsals.
...about the impossibility of a real retired United States General showing up for a little art show/evening benefit in Chicago's west loop a week before Christmas, actually needing my services to find a job (even in this economy, that's pretty darn impossible!).
...about the impossibility of capturing the innocence of 1945 on film in a holiday musical produced in 1954, because America never really had innocence, only the illusion of one.
...about the possibility of impossibility: all the songs in the movie—a movie about a Christian holiday—were written by Irving Berlin, a Jew. Some argue he turned this Christian holiday about the birth of Jesus into a holiday about snow.
...about the impossibility of forgetting acquired job skills: I worked for 8-years with a promotional products company providing give-aways for trade shows. I used some of the same vendors I knew then to manufacture the elements for my booth.
...that it would be impossible for me to stand there at the booth the entire evening explaining my booth while there were drinks to be drunk, so I left a simple "Back In 5 Minutes" sign on the table. I thought it would be better with this sign as my 'stand-in' for me as a performer.
What Can You Do With a General?
When the war was over, why, there were jobs galore
For the G.I. Josephs who were in the war
But for generals things were not so grand
And it's not so hard to understand
What can you do with a general
When he stops being a general?
Oh, what can you do with a general who retires?
Who's got a job for a general
When he stops being a general?
They all get a job but a general no one hires
They fill his chest with medals while he's across the foam
And they spread the crimson carpet when he comes marching home
The next day someone hollers when he comes into view
'Here comes the general' and they all say 'General who?'
They're delighted that he came
But they can't recall his name
Nobody thinks of assigning him
When they stop wining and dining him
It seems this country never has enjoyed
So many one and two and three and four star generals