Time Travel :: Jazz AgeThursday, January 5, 2012
Before you begin reading, press play for the music...
Now close your eyes for just a second. Imagine (if you are a woman) being dressed in a drop-waist dress with silk stockings held up by lace garters. Imagine the feel of multiple strands of pearls hanging around your neck, trailing down your torso. Imagine walking into a New York club on a 1920's evening. The club is dark and smokey. It smells like cigars and cigarettes. Everyone smokes now. Even you...from a long stemmed holder, of course. Your hair gleams under the dim lights, shiny with pomade keeping your short, bobbed finger waves in place. You have thick, black lined eyes and a red, bow shaped mouth. Feathers and beads are tucked in the headband at your temple. All around you, couples are snuggled up. The dance floor is a flurry of kicking legs...garters, stockings and bloomers on display as men swing women around in the jiving steps of the Charleston...
After the First Great War, something happened in our society. Life changed forever. Perhaps it was the sight of so much death and destruction in Europe. After all, media was booming...in newspapers, photography and radio broadcast. For the first time, war coverage was everywhere. Children could see it, hear about it, imagine it. And war itself had changed. It was bloodier. Airplanes engaged in dog fights miles above the French and German terrain. Bombs leveled entire villages and cities. Gas attacks and chemical warfare were engaged. War could do more damage in a single firefight than ever before--and young, fresh men were witness to it. Women enlisted to serve in the Red Cross, tossed on lines to bandage stumps where limbs had been blown away. Perhaps they weren't prepared for it? Maybe they didn't know how to handle the affects it had on them?
Writers like Hemingway believe this is what changed their generation--pushed them over the edge, so to speak. Suddenly, life was only in the moment. It didn't matter what tomorrow or yesterday has or held. All that mattered was instant satisfaction. Entertainment began to explode. Silent movies were on the rise, and new-fangled 'talkies' were on the horizon. Music changed. Suddenly, children of slaves were transforming the music industry...creating a new, blue sound. With blasting cornets and squalling trumpets, men like Louis Armstrong created jazz.
Morals shifted, and, at times, nearly disappearing. Even in an era of prohibition, liquor was everywhere. In fact, the attempt to make our country dry only fueled the need, or want, for it. Gangsters and the mob took control of the country--engaged in a cat and mouse game with the authorities. The entire nation was spellbound by the 'action' and followed the movements of the notorious criminals as if they were today's A star celebrities.
In this new time, women began to shave the hair from their legs and from beneath their arms. They had to. Dress hemlines were shorter, dresses were sleeveless. Slang was on the rise. Sweethearts became 'baby'. Affirmatives became 'ab-so-lut-ley'. If you had a complaint, you had 'beef' with someone. You were not a big shot. Instead, you were a 'Big Cheese'. Extraordinary people, things or ideas became the 'bee's knees'. A rich boyfriend was a 'daddy'...girls were 'dames' or 'dolls'...'A Dead Soldier' was an empty beer bottle...money became 'dough'...an 'egg' was a person who lived the big life.
F. Scott Fitzgerald captured the life and moral decline in his books like "The Great Gatsby" and "Flappers and Philosophy". Hemingway portrayed it in "The Sun Also Rises" and "A Farewell To Arms". The Lost Generation rose from the ashes of The Great War and captured their decade of a Golden Era between the pages of their masterpieces.
So as you imagine yourself sitting down in the smokey club with Kid Howard's Olympia Band reverberating through you, try to imagine what it takes to change an entire country so dramatically. What does it take for women to revolutionize fashion and fight for their rights? Why does crime and underground worlds of bootleg appear when men are suppressed? How are morals shed so quickly and easily? How, in nearly a blink of an eye, can every thing change so drastically?
Because it is about to happen again. Here and now. But hopefully, perhaps it will be a movement to pick up the pieces of broken darkness and shape and mold something whole and beautiful--nothing like once was, but something unique to us? Maybe...