My friend Nancy has started a fabulous blog called THE SINGING HAND, which is “an exploration of under-appreciated and rare instruments, with an emphasis on the dreamlike and the handmade.” The first entry is great, let’s hope she runs with it. Check it out.

Here’s a picture of Nancy scrubbing her back.

Nancy’s really handy with a mop, too.

Okay, okay, it’s Joan Blondell.

Here’s Joan Blondell singing “Remember My Forgotten Man” in a Busby Berkeley-choreographed number from Gold Diggers of 1933. This song basically lambasts the government during the depression for “forgetting” the hard-working men who fought in the war and cultivated the land, and now they’re standing in soup-kitchen lines with holes in their hats. What I like about it is how she says that by forgetting him, the government is forgetting her- he’s just a shell of a man now- where’s the hunky, industrious guy she fell in love with?

FDR’s first New Deal programs, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, began employing hundreds of thousands of unemployed men in the spring of 1933. Here are some of those forgotten men constructing a road.

The outlaw became a folk hero during the Depression, spawning some great songs. “Pretty Boy Floyd”, Woody Guthrie’s ballad to the handsome bank robber, closes with the line “You will never see an outlaw drive a family from their home”-they robbed banks but they didn’t foreclose on the farms of hard-working people. Woody Guthrie recorded this five years after Floyd was ambushed and shot to death in East Liverpool, Ohio in 1934. Here is his original followed with a version by The Byrds from their 1968 album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

Pretty Boy Floyd

Pretty Boy Floyd


3 responses to “Depression

  1. Geez, Bear. I’m blushing. And reading your blog. You and it are collectively the best.

  2. Great post, gentlebear. Your mention of FDR’s New Deal program is especially gratifying in that I was struggling to remember how federal intervention policies had helped support and shape the arts also – almost unbelievably – when I was putting together my post on Jackson Pollock. I think I rambled about it to Jon in the comments section at the time.

    While I’m at it, thank you for introducing me to The Singing Hand. What a terrific blog. Beautiful.

    P.S. I love the shots you used on your New Orleans post, too. Great stuff.

  3. People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs, 1913-1938
    (Tompkins Square)

    Seventy songs culled from 25 years of early American roots music divide this 3-CD retrospective, a Depression-era history lesson introduced by murder-ballad and disaster-song expert Tom Waits. He writes that these songs “are crude and rudimentary pulp. These were the oral tabloids of the day.” And the news was grim: prison fires, boll weevils, railroad accidents, floods. The packaging is sepia-toned and textbooklike, with photos of train wrecks and mine explosions, detailed histories of every song, and an overview of what was essentially the beginning of the blues. As a testament to the diversity of disaster back then, the three discs also have themes. Man v Machine laments, most famously, the Titanic, among other mechanical failures, sung by the people who knew the blues: Memphis “preblues” man Furry Lewis, we’re told, had a wooden leg thanks to a train accident. It’s those tidbits that make the discs come to life, which helps because the sound quality on many of the songs is horrible. Nevertheless, there are gems under the scratches. Man v Nature uncovers a white-hot “When the Levee Breaks” by Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie, as well as Charlie Patton’s two-part “High Water Everywhere” and Son House’s “Dry Spell Blues, Part 2.” Disc three, Man v Man (and Woman, Too), finally gets around to the murder ballads with feel-good titles like “The Murder of the Lawson Family” and “Poor Ellen Smith.” Though the songs are a mixed and morose bunch, their rebirth from a time when death was everywhere is murder.

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