Sunday, November 4, 2012

Elected Officials: Bread Line Blues

Bernard “Slim” Smith : Breadline Blues (1932)

Del McCoury Band with Mac Wiseman, Tim O'Brien, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings: Breadline Blues (2008)

[purchase Various Artists: Hard Times Come Again No More ]

[purchase New Lost City Ramblers: Songs from the Depression ]

[purchase Del McCoury Band: Moneyland ]

The Del McCoury Band released their 2008 “Moneyland” album with only one intention in mind – to send a clear message to Washington’s politicians. “Over the last couple of decades, you have turned Rural America into a scene of devastation which can best be described as 'Forgotten America.' Not only do we believe it 'un-American' for Washington to be blind to the problems of small towns and rural America, we believe it immoral ... and there are an ever-growing number of us out here who are ready to stand up against this corrupt neglect of our culture and people."

McCoury’s album opens with an excerpt from one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era fireside chats espousing a "broader definition of liberty" that allows more freedom and security for the average man than ever known before. Then, the advice in Bernard "Slim" Smith's 1932 rendition of "Bread Line Blues" is to “Vote away those blues, the bread line blues.” It’s great advice, and we have until next Tuesday to have our say on which direction we take for the next four years.

Think about what it was like in the 1920s and 30s. Following the 20s’ economic boom, our country experienced the Great Depression. As many rural Americans hadn’t exactly prospered during the boom years, they’d been hit with a double whammy. In this day and age a century later, it’s fun to relate to those songs recorded before and after the 1929 market crash. In many cases, their messages are still relevant. You certainly don’t need to wear a size-8 hat to understand straightforward lyrics like:

The mule said, “Elephant, it ain’t no joke.
We gotta do somethin' or we're all gonna croak.”
Ain’t got nothin' but a car load of tax,
And the doggone load is just breakin’ our backs.
We got the blues, the bread line blues.

Songs like “Bread Line Blues” don’t deserve to be relegated to historical musical archives full of wax and cylinders. That’s exactly why groups like the New Lost City Ramblers and Del McCoury Band have recorded this kind of material in more recent times. McCoury’s 2008 remake also featured Mac Wiseman, Tim O'Brien, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings along with additional lyrics.

After listening to the newer remake of "Breadline Blues 2008," we’re still left wondering about various moral dilemmas and whether there are any clear-cut answers. Some folks despair and remain pessimistic, but I’d just say that songs like “Bread Line Blues” are a call to action. Tongue-in-cheek social commentary of "Bread Line Blues" between the long-eared mule and the big-mouthed elephant is still relevant today. The message to all politicians is clarion. Start talking, collaborating, compromising and working on our Nation’s problems. Whether you’re "red" or "blue," think about the current state of all Americans, their communities, and their livelihoods. We need more than corn that’s “all cob.” FDR was optimistic, and we should be too. Still timely today, FDR's advice was to overcome our arduous burdens and economic calamities by retaining our faith in our ability to master our own destiny.

As politicians tout their respective visions for America, most of us just want a small piece of opportunity to achieve the American dream. By getting to the ballot box, you’ll help the country determine the way ahead. As the original "Bread Line Blues" stated so profoundly eighty years ago, "And when you place your vote / Please don't vote wrong / Vote away those blues / The bread line blues." Moreover, when the general election is all over and done with, I look forward to that time again when we can “all have fun and better home brew.”

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