• Thomas A. Wilson

Feet, Don't Fail Me Now

The Greatest Generation (born between 1901 and 1927), like every generation, offers up a mixed bag of positives and negatives. On the positive side, overcoming The Great Depression and winning the second World War stand out. On the negative, tolerance and celebration of demeaning stereotypes—like the cinema character Stepin Fetchit—proves that even heroic people can live beneath their privilege.

Stepin Fetchit was the stage name of Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry. He was the first black actor to receive featured screen credit in a Hollywood film. He parlayed the lazy, dim-witted, Stepin Fetchit persona into a million dollars in earnings. Therefore, he’s also considered the first “successful” black actor. But Hollywood has little understanding of success.

Perry didn’t have a happy life. His first two marriages failed—with accusations of domestic violence. Perry declared bankruptcy in 1947, suffered a stroke in 1976, lingered for about a decade, and died in 1985. In 1969, his son, Donald, killed 4 people, injured 16 others, then killed himself.

Stepin Fetchits’ most famous movie line was, “Feets, don’t fail me now.” The line was usually delivered after some fright, like the appearance of a ghost. Wide eyed and slump-shouldered, the character would make a hasty retreat. The meme was born in Vaudeville, but Perry made it famous.

Um, ha ha?

While most don’t remember Perry or Stepin Fetchit, the famous line lives on. Multiple songs and record albums bear the name. From Herbie Hancock to the Louisiana Men & Friends, performers are drawn to the “Feet, don’t fail me now” meme.

In the Queens of the Stone Age song of that title, the band laments, “life is hard. That’s why no one survives.”

Need to Breathe sings, “Don’t wanna look up and it be over. Don’t want to wish that I had longer.”

Foxes gets prayerful, “So, I'm saying, oh, now, gotta go now. Praying, feet don't fail me now.”

But Neoni, I think, has produced the best song with the “Feet, don’t fail me now” title:

There is no plan b Call me insane If these hills could speak They'd scream and say Don't ever, no, never, don't ever give up When you feel the pressure you're just warming up They're coming for me There's no time to waste

Feet don’t fail me now.

All these songs speak of getting to or away from something. And isn’t that what it means to be alive? Isn’t it about the quest?

Drifting is the great betrayal of human potential. To float along, occasionally driven by waves of selfish passion, breaking bones and wasting wealth—these leave a bitter legacy. Wormwood; absinthe. Drunken angst and malignant stupor.

Real men, authentic people, do better. They define, pursue, and realize a goal. Then they do it again. Fully alive, they reject underliving by embracing reality—in all its glory.

If you’re feeling a little hobbled, why not grab a copy of Authentic Man School, and do a little personal podiatry? Maybe your generation has the fitness to get to higher moral ground—to write a new meme?

We’ll see.


People take in stimuli, craft beliefs out of that raw material, then they hold tightly to those beliefs. Col. John Boyd, the Sun Tzu of our era, in Destruction and Creation, wrote, “To comprehend and cope with our environment we develop mental patterns or concepts of meaning…we destroy and create those patterns to permit us to both shape and be shaped by a changing environment”

Affirmation of the Week: I heartily maintain focus, reflecting my decision to not be a passive observer of my own life.

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