I enjoy listening to classical music in the mornings during my commute to work.
This past week I had to go into work a few days (otherwise I have been working from home) to take care of a few things.
I turned on the radio (WRTI.org) and a ragtime piece was just finishing up.
It was “The Strenuous Life” by Scott Joplin, The King of Ragtime (1868-1917).
I’ve always enjoyed ragtime music and was first introduced to it quite by accident when I was eight or nine. A classmate and friend had arrived at my house to attend my birthday party. He came bearing a wrapped present and a (no sleeve) 45 rpm record, slightly scratched. Someone had thrown it away and he had found it on the sidewalk in front of my parents house. He thought it might be ours and retrieved it. I read the title - It was the theme music from the movie “The Sting” - and another classic Scott Joplin composed ragtime piece, called “The Entertainer”.
The movie, from 1973, stars Robert Redford, Paul Newman (two grifters) and Robert Shaw (mob boss). It’s an excellent movie. Add it to your movie watching list.
Scott Joplin, pianist and teacher, composed this to honor Theodore Roosevelt’s (then NY Governor) and his speech of the same name, “The Strenuous Life”, delivered before The Hamilton Club in Chicago, April 10th, 1899. Additionally, Roosevelt invited Booker T Washington for supper at the White House - so this is also to honor that welcome and invitation.
What is The Strenuous Life?
Theodore Roosevelt advocated for a life of hard work and effort in order to triumph and succeed in carving out a meaningful life.
He believed, due to the rising effects of industrialization, that men (and boys) were becoming too soft and lazy.
“In speaking to you, men of the greatest city of the West, men of the State which gave to the country Lincoln and Grant, men who pre-eminently and distinctly embody all that is most American in the American character, I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”
Roosevelt knew that lazy, weak, pampered, indolent Men, contributed to a lazy, indolent, weak and pampered Nation.
“A life of ignoble ease, a life of that peace which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things, is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual. I ask only that what every self-respecting American demands from himself and from his sons shall be demanded of the American nation as a whole. Who among you would teach your boys that ease, that peace, is to be the first consideration in their eyes-to be the ultimate goal after which they strive?”
It should. This, fundamentally, describes the United States right now.
In fact, if Theodore Roosevelt were alive today he’d no doubt call us all fucking pussies.
So, what’s the takeaway from all of this?
One, Ragtime is great to listen to. It’s practically impossible not to have a smile on your face as you do. It conjures up forward movement and action just as Theodore Roosevelt will do as you read and follow along with his own life which was full of Decisive Action and Forward Momentum.
Two, let both Joplin’s music and Roosevelt’s speeches and essays motivate and inspire you to get your ass moving.
How? Figure it out, damn it! That’s part of the process.
Remember - “We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life. It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. In this life we get nothing save by effort.”
Read the full speech here - “The Strenuous Life”.
My copy - Theodore Roosevelt - The Strenuous Life, Essays & Addresses.