Chapter 8: The Depressing Thirties

Every textbook's go-to image of the Great Depression, when the economy collapsed, unemployment levels soared, men who had fought for their country in the war ended up waiting in line for bread, while banks failed right and left - taking people's money with them. When John Dillinger started robbing banks, people weren't all that angry at him. In fact, they thought he was a hero. Is there anyone you could rob (or at least hit in the face with a pie) and look like a hero today? We can think of a few.

The current rent on this place is $1050 a month plus utilities, no pets allowed - it's a "cozy pre-war efficiency oozing with vintage charm featuring exposed pipes and breathtaking city views."

Woody Guthrie wrote over 1000 songs, including "This Land is Your Land" and others that you've probably heard before. Every now and then they STILL find another notebook full of songs he wrote and never got around to recording. The sign on his guitar reads "THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS." A fascist is an authoritarian dictator (call your teacher one at your own risk). To say that a guitar could bring them down seems like a bold statement - until you consider that many people felt that it was "blue jeans and rock n roll,*" not politics, that brought down communism in Europe in the late 1980s. And when Richard Nixon got in trouble for erasing eighteen minutes and twenty seconds from the Watergate Tapes, a few people noted that that was EXACTLY the length of "Alice's Restaurant" a comedic song about the draft written by Woody's son Arlo. Did Nixon tape over a recording to hide the fact that he was an Arlo Guthrie fan? Well, probably not, but, as Arlo himself asks, "how many things in this world are 18 minutes and 20 seconds long?"

Bank robber John Dillinger in the morgue after being shot by the FBI in Chicago. That's his ARM under the sheet, but this photo inspired The Legend of Dillinger's Ding-a-ling.

* -Okay, we got that quote from guitarist Keith Richards, who is not exactly an economist, but still - lots of people DO think this. The guy who became president of Hungary after their "Velvet Revolution" has been known to claim, with a straight face, that they named their revolution after the band The Velvet Undergound, and a recent PBS documentary showed some high level officials in the current Russian goverment talking about what a role the Beatles played in making kids think for themselves instead of letting The State do it for them (In Soviet Russia, hand wants to hold you!) There's no doubt that music can, at least in a small way, change the world.


The song referred to in the end-of-chapter experiment:

"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" became an anthem of men whose country had sent them to war and then to work, but ended up in breadlines.

This is Al Jolson's version. There was a time when it was generally agreed that he was the greatest entertainer in the world - he starred in The Jazz Singer, the first successful talking movie. However, many people remember him today mainly because he often wore black makeup when performing African American music. Performing in blackface is (quite rightly) considered horribly offensive today; however, it's rarely fair to judge people of the past on the standards of behavior we have today, and Jolson is a good example: blackface wasn't considered offensive at the time (dressing as someone of another ethnicity was standard costuming), and Jolson was by no means a racist. In fact, he helped introduce "black" music to a much wider audience at a time when blacks were often not allowed onstage.

Great Depression Cooking:
Try "the poor man's meal." We did! It's good!

Outside of the Depression, Hollywood became even MORE glamorous as improved movie technology allowed moviemakers to do all sorts of new stuff. This is a musical number from "Gold Diggers of 1933," a film directed by Busby Berkeley, who was known for really weird, extravagant choreography with dancing pianos, giant bananas, and water ballets. This risque number has chimpanzees, perverted babies on roller skates, a snow storm, and metal underwear. Now THAT'S entertainment!

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