"Jubilation T. Cornpone" - Guilty Pleasure Thursday
"Jubilation T. Cornpone" may do nothing to further the plot or to give us a deeper understanding of a character, but you simply cannot hear this song without tapping your toes and getting caught up in the hillbilly hoopla of this guilty pleasure. It is showstopping fun, and in the hands of showstopper extraordinaire Stubby Kaye, the number is the highlight of the 1956 musical Li'l Abner.
Li'l Abner is based on the popular Al Capp comic strip by the same name that follows the cartoonish denizens of Dogpatch, USA. The strip was a satire of politics, current events, and the human condition as seen through the eyes of America at its most naive. The backwoods innocence of this rural south community is captured in the jaunty twang of Gene de Paul's (music) and Johnny Mercer's (lyrics) vibrant score.
When the residents of Dogpatch come together for a town meeting, they sing "Jubilation T. Cornpone" as a tribute to the founder of their hamlet, a Civil War general who lost every battle he ever fought. The town's parson "Marryin' Sam" (Kaye) leads the chorus in this list song of Cornpone's failures both on the battlefield and in life. Each verse is more hilarious than the last. The song is a raucous but subtle indictment of self-serving politicians, ineffective leadership, and of going to war. Still, the song is so joyous and the people so clueless, they see this man as their hero and we like to go along with them for this dillusional ride. The blind leading the blind.
What makes "Jubilation T. Cornpone" work so well is the earnestness with which it is delievered. These lemmings are so caught up in celebrating that they forget to remember WHAT they are celebrating: a loser. The sins of the leader become the sins of his followers as they embrace his inadequacies and his dumb luck and mistake it for true leadership.
Aren't we all responsible for the phonies we put in office?