Musings on Literary and Musical Maxims

The noted French author François, duc de la Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) wrote an incisive masterpiece in his book Maxims, published first in 1665 as Réflexions ou Sentences et Maximes Morales. A maxim is a short, concise observation about human behavior, vanity, or mores. La Rochefoucauld penned a total of 504 maxims over his literary career—many are simply a couple of sentences long. I have loved this little book ever since I discovered La Rochefoucauld in an undergraduate French literature class at USC, and still occasionally pull it out for a read. Maxim #142 came to mind the other day as I listened to the news:

“As the stamp of great minds is to suggest much in few words, so, contrariwise, little minds have the gift of talking a great deal and saying nothing.”

The original French, for you francophones, goes like this: “Comme c’est le caractère des grands esprits de faire entendre en peu de paroles beaucoup de choses, les petits esprits au contraire ont le don de beaucoup parler, et de ne rien dire.”

Two songs provide contemporary commentary on this classic Gallic maxim: James Brown’s “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing” and Mose Allison’s witty song, “Your Mind is On Vacation” (your mouth is working overtime).

The lyrics for “Talkin’ Loud” start off as follows:

Like a dull knife
Just ain’t cutting
Just talking loud
Then saying nothing

Just saying nothing
Just saying nothing

You can’t tell me
How to run my life down
You can’t tell me
How to keep my business sound

You can’t tell me
What I’m doing wrong
When you keep driving and
Singing that same old money song…

And how about some of the droll lyrics to Mose Allison’s “Your Mind is On Vacation”:

You’re sitting there yakkin’ right in my face
I guess I’m gonna have to put you in your place
Y’know if silence was golden
You couldn’t raise a dime
Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is
Working overtime

You’re quoting figures, you’re dropping names
You’re telling stories about the dames
You’re always laughin’ when things ain’t funny
You try to sound like you’re big money
If talk was criminal, you’d lead a life of crime
Because your mind is on vacation and your mouth is
Working overtime

With that, I’ll keep this post short and simply suggest that you take a break from the incessant news to listen to these two great songs: