Once upon a time, looking back, things were so primitive. It is hard for an old man to realize we have come so far.
I was born in 1929, the year of the stock market crash. Two years before I was born, Al Jolson starred in a movie called “The Jazz Singer.” It was a film about a 1925 Broadway play. It was historic because it was the first talking movie.
In the early 1920s, all movies had subtitles and there would be a piano player or, in the better theaters, an organist who would improvise music to go with what was on the screen and the printed dialogue.
I was born when Herbert Hoover was president and was 3 years old when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected. As I grew older, I remember Roosevelt’s “Fireside Chats.” Everybody had a big radio in the living room and, hard as it may be to believe, we all sat around and listened many programs — but especially the president, FDR.
There was “Fibber McGree and Molly,” Jack Benny with his sidekick comedian, Rochester, and Edgar Bergen with his puppet, Charlie McCarthy. Late afternoons, everyday, there were special programs for the children: “Little Orphan Annie,” “Captain Midnight” and “The Lone Ranger,” who was on early evenings for both adults and children.
It was a different time, and the world was simpler. The morality was so much stronger. You couldn’t say “hell” or “damn” on the radio or in motion pictures. Would you believe, even the word “pregnant” was considered off limits? You could say a woman was expecting, or the stork was coming, but pregnant was unacceptable.
Then, during the war years, America had a 16-million man army, and everybody who could walk was in the service. One of the popular songs of the day was, “They Are Either Too Young or Too Old.” The music was all positive, and the lyrics of a song all told a story.
Many of the songs that were sung in England would be broadcast to America. Vera Lynn sang, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square.” She also sang “Auf Wiedersehen, Sweetheart.” The radio signal from England was often hard to receive, but the songs were melancholy and most of our men were either in England or in the Pacific.
To be sure, there were other songs that tried to cheer up wartime America — “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer” and, of course, the Andrews Sisters with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” After Pearl Harbor, the most popular song was “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” There was comical band known as Spike Jones, whose popular hit was “Der Fuhrer’s Face.” How often the music reflects the period in our history.
Les Brown was the band that traveled with Bob Hope and the USO overseas. His hits were “Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night in the Week,” and his theme song during the war years was “Sentimental Journey.”
During the war, the most popular band was The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Miller actually died in a plane crash in Europe. But his music, such as “Moonlight Serenade” and “In the Mood,” is so haunting to those of us who lived through the war years.
The vocalists of the time were Vaughn Monroe, who made famous a wartime song, “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” and Bing Crosby introduced “White Christmas” for the first time. Those years, looking back, were so sad, but America won the war in Europe and the war in the Pacific in less time than it took to defeat Iraq.
Amazing as it was, a German scientist escaped Nazi Germany, worked in America and developed and delivered the first atomic bomb in less than four years.
The 1950s were different. The men were all home. They were building homes and having babies, and America’s economy was booming. It was in the 1950s that commercial air transport developed. The biggest airline in the world was Pan American.
As I look back on New Year’s Eve, I remember how many neighborhood parties there would be, and it seemed every house had a stand-up piano. My dad was a great piano player. He played by ear, and he was the hit of every party because he could play any song that was requested.
Sunday afternoons, in the winter, I remember him sitting in a darkened living room playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Second Piano Concerto,” but on New Year’s Eve, he would play, “The Gang’s All Here.”
Not so long ago, New Year’s Eve was more about different fraternal organizations that would often have public celebrations of the New Year. There were the Masons and the Knights of Columbus. There were the animal and bird clubs: the Moose, the Elk, the Lions, the Eagles.
The most popular local bands in those years were Dino Malogrides, Brennan/Quinn, et al. On the national scene, at midnight, as the old year slipped away and the New Year was ushered in, I remember the music of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians who played “Auld Lang Syne.” Today, I long for those New Year’s Eves. They were so much simpler and spoke with a higher degree of morality.
This year, on television, the kids will be scantily dressed, singing songs that, to me, have no meaning. It will be drums and guitars, when years ago, it was a full orchestra and songs that were romantic and sentimental. But at least they had meaning. The lyrics of the songs years ago were, in themselves, a piece of art, and every song carried a message that you could clearly understand.
I guess it is fair to say that the only thing wrong with today’s generation is I am not part of it. I am sure if I were younger I would enjoy and understand how to celebrate New Year’s Eve in today’s 21st century. But for this old timer, and many of my readers who do remember the war and the good years after World War II, we also enjoy the memories of holidays past when, if you will forgive me for the term, I think we were more civilized.
Looking at the world today, with all of its problems, and America, with its debt, unemployment and deteriorating morals, I wish everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
I will close by saying, I think I was born at the right time, and the way the world is going, it seems to me I will be leaving this world at the right time.
Happy 2010 everybody.