I’m getting to this a little late. My apologies to Sandi; I was having a hard time with this one.
The song this week is Aerosmith’s “Same Old Song And Dance,” which isn’t the same as the one by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn that Frank Sinatra did many years ago.
Anyway, a “song and dance” started out meaning “a theatrical performance that combines singing and dancing.” Simple enough, right? My favorite one is James Cagney’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” which came from the movie of the same name about the life of George M. Cohan. Cagney won an Academy Award for this performance.
Movies used to be filled with this sort of entertainment. Just about any Fred Astaire movie where he’s dancing with Ginger Rogers, or Rita Hayworth, or Cyd Charisse has a number of song-and-dance numbers.
Anyway, that was the original meaning of the term. Since then, it’s become a slang expression for “an excessively elaborate effort to explain or justify,” as well as “an elaborate story or explanation intended to deceive or mislead.” We tend to associate these meanings primarily with politicians, who do a lot of this type of “singing and dancing,” but it can really apply to anyone, such as a kid’s explanation for a failing grade or a broken window, an employee’s explanation for why a project is late, or a spouse’s explanation for coming home at 3 in the morning, reeking of booze and cheap perfume (or cologne). Typically, explanations of that type are long and involved, in the hopes that the person demanding the explanation will get bored with it and say, “well, just don’t let it happen again.”
Now, if these are things that happen repeatedly, and the explanation is always the same, we have “the same old song and dance.” Very few people learn to change the story from one time to the next, or the story they offer is simply a variation on the theme. In those cases, rather than allaying suspicion, it causes the listener to question all instances where they’ve hard the story.
And then there are those instances where “the same old song and dance” happens when you fail to learn from history or your mistakes. Other phrases that have roughly the same meaning in this case are “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” and “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome each time.” I think we’re all guilty of this at one time or another.
There was a guy I worked with who was, to put it kindly, a real jerk. Every time I had to work with this guy, he was a real pain in the ass. Well, as luck would have it, I ended up working for the guy, and foolishly, I didn’t take this as my signal to find a new job. I was kind of insulated from him by an intermediate manager, and I didn’t really have to deal with him much, but then he decided he was going to deal with me directly on a specific project. We were at each other’s throats constantly, and finally he decided to put me on a “performance plan” that was essentially thirty days for me to “shape up or ship out.” I chose to ship out. I wasn’t going to go through the same old song and dance with him again.