GET HAPPY?

Over breakfast, the Beloved and I were talking about worry.  Everyone knows in some logical way that worry is useless and destructive, but most people have a hard time asking our anxieties to take a nap.

You can read her moving ruminations on the subject here

As is my habit, my thoughts drifted to music . . . and I started telling her about the paradoxical phenomenon I associate with 1931-33: delightful songs where the singer cheerfully tells the audience that WE’RE OUT OF THE RED, WE’RE IN THE MONEY, HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN, and so on.  The title of this post — with no question mark — is a Harold Arlen-Ted Koehler exhortation.

“Better times are coming . . . now and then,” said philosopher Josh Billings, musing over his suitcase and whiskbrooms.

Then, there’s WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, whose lyrics still make a good deal of emotional sense (although the verse and the chorus seem to have come from two different songs):

and the more manic (or is it simply Ted Lewis’ delivery) DIP YOUR BRUSH IN THE SUNSHINE — where Benny Goodman and Muggsy Spanier embody optimism without speaking a word:

and the songs that silently say, “We have no place to go and no money, so let’s tell ourselves it’s fine and perhaps it will be,” such as LET’S SPEND AN EVENING AT HOME and the older SLEEPY TIME GAL, where the singer tells his partner that it would be so delightful to forgo “cabaretting” and staying out late in favor of domesticity.  KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE — because, as the subtitle tells us, TROUBLE’S A BUBBLE.

Or the culinary versions of this sentiment: A CUP OF COFFEE, A SANDWICH, AND YOU, and LIFE IS JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES.

My question — unanswerable although enticing — is whether these songs made a difference or they were lies manufactured by people in the Brill Building who knew that writing about imaginary prosperity could make them fifty dollars.  Were these songs the musical version of cheap gin, another effort to keep the peasants from overturning their apple carts and marching on the government with pitchforks and bricks?

From my vantage point in 2012 with breakfast consumed and the promise of a lunch, I can find these songs enchanting.  I can grin at RAISIN’ THE RENT and GET YOURSELF A NEW BROOM (AND SWEEP YOUR CARES AWAY) but I wonder how people who were hungry felt when they heard these Timely Tunes.  Did hearing BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? make anyone without coinage feel better?

May you all find that your troubles vanish when wrapped in dreams.

May your happiness increase.

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3 responses to “GET HAPPY?

  1. Food for thought! And let’s not forget that there were also songs that took a (completely opposite) satirical, biting approach, such as ‘Now’s the Time to Fall In Love’, ‘Cheer up, Smile, Nertz!’ and the like. The latter ends with a suprising call to arms – “Let’s hang the fat-heads to a tree”! Listening to those the other day made me wonder how much listeners really bought into the escapism at the time, and how much of the notion that they did actually comes from our own desire to imbue their generation with a kind of innocent naivete that was never there.

  2. My parents — both gone — were born in 1915 and they knew the Depression well. I learned many of the song hits of 1931 from my father (even though I didn’t know that at the time), and I suspect, given your wise comment, that if I had asked them, they would have said, “Oh, those were just songs. We liked them, we sang them, but they were just songs.” Thank you, as always, JSA!

  3. Pingback: DREAMS, BLUEBIRDS, GOODWILL | JAZZ LIVES

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