What is it about early popular music that has such an effect on us to this day? There’s a simplicity there, yet it’s matched with so much musicality. Lyrics are to the point, melody is often jaunty and lively. They are meant to make us smile, shuffle our feet and snap our fingers. Jazz, big band and American standards are about celebrating life and “the little things” that truly matter so much. That’s why we still dream of a white Christmas in the winter months, dance in the streets in the summer and croon “At Last” when we find true love.
The sense of wonderment that is so strong in those songs is much harder to find in popular music today. There’s a sense of hope and a feeling of brightness in the music of yesterday that we turn to over and over again. That’s precisely why Pippa, the heroine of my upcoming new release, as someone whose career is in fashion, takes her cue from the line, and song title, “Accentuate the Positive.”
When Accentuate the Positive was first released in 1944, things were a little different, while in some ways still much the same. A song inspired by a religious sermon, its lyrics convey the message that a bit of good cheer goes a long way in improving quality of life. It became a hit because it was such an inspiring message with a catchy sound. It was a time in American history when we needed to hear it and we were looking for a path to a sunnier outlook. The opening verse asserts:
“You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between”
The straightforward message, delivered with charming directness and exactitude, is that there is no need to let life drag you down when there’s a lot of good out there to take hold of. Furthermore, it suggests that complexity is gratuitous and unnecessary and muddling about in gray areas is not beneficial in uplifting the mood. It definitely sounds a little reductive by today’s standards. Its upbeat theme works much better in modern time when applied specifically. Which brings me to Pippa!
Pippa’s career has been built around the idea that, when it comes to clothing, fashion and outward appearance, women always can, and should, Accentuate the Positive. Unlike the broad concept that drives the song, Pippa’s motto connotes an understanding that contemporary style should cultivate positivity, when there are a lot of ways the realities of modern life can be a little harsh. In the first part of the 20th century, Americans relied on music and some aspects of popular culture to brighten their darker days. In 2017, we may be slightly more able to accept the ambiguities of life “Messing with Mister In-Between” as it were, but we also have more opportunities to look on the bright side as well. How we dress is one of those ways.
While the simple times of yesteryear were more of a one size fits all, in terms of what we wore, but on a larger scale as well, Pippa rejects that idea in her work: self-expression and self-confidence are her dictums. Accentuate the Positive in today’s world means knowing yourself. Knowing what makes you feel good and what brings you the most joy as your unique self, celebrating your individuality and distinctiveness. One line in particular we find in the song has a very direct tone:
“Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene”
The idea is that staying optimistic brings about a sense that we have the ability to take charge in our lives. While still certainly applicable, we are more likely to forgive ourselves the odd mood swing or rough day, not because we’ve entirely lost that sense of hope, but because we know that it’s all a part of “being who you are.” And really, a well-fitting skirt or fabulous pair of shoes can be a very useful reminder of that.