For Veterans Day, Turner Classic Movies showed first a documentary, Warners At War, about the World War II productions of the Warner Brothers studios allowing them to pull out that stock footage from Bugs Bunny selling ``Any Bonds Today?'' and all the patriotic and heroic stuff they ever did by making movies and let's not talk about that ``LOCKHEED THAT WAY'' arrow painted atop a soundstage for the benefit of presumed Japanese bombers (not even to debunk it if the story deserves debunking), and then a couple of the Hollywood Canteen-type movies in which a bunch of patriotic songs are strung together with appearances from famous actors and comics of screen and sometimes radio, and a paper-thin romance plot that could be assigned, if necessary, to Ronald Reagan to carry.
Among the things that intrigued me was that over the course of several hours with many, many songs, not all of them by Irving Berlin, written to endorse the idea that the United States was going to win the First and then the Second World War, is how generally good the songs were. I mean, there's nothing that seems able to stop these days the creation of agonizing patriot-themed songs with awful lyrics about eagles daring and we'll beat up those terrorists. Fortunately most of them are confined to radio stations I don't listen to, with the occasional intrusion when one of them gets a video so goofy it makes it onto David Letterman's show, or a hilarious YouTube video of the week. Still, they're out there, making Official State Songs seem like bastions of dignity and grace and the ability to write a coherent lyric, and consider that at least three Official State Songs are ``O Tannenbaum'' with new words.
Obviously an important part of the difference is selection bias. There were enormously many rally-the-flag songs written after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the worst of them mercifully lost beneath ``Pistol-Packin' Mama'' (25 percent of all music during the war years was ``Pistol-Packin' Mama'', in response to a War Production Board resource-conservation decree) and the sixty-plus years since then, and now only appear if a radio station wants to do a Patriotic Holiday and then discovers they've got more airspace than songs. If a song is good enough to last three or more generations and still be sung there's probably quite some merit in it. And I'm biased by my tastes against current music, where current is defined as ``since they stopped using sitars in songs on purpose''. Still ... it was a lot of songs last night, and most of them good. It still feels like something's up.
Trivia: Spike Jones's Der Führer's Face was not played on the radio during World War II, due to its vulgar use of the Bronx cheer. Source: Don't You Know There's A War On?, Richard Lingeman.
Currently Reading: The Railroad And The Space Program: An exploration In Historical Analogy, Editor Bruce Mazlish.