Friday, November 21, 2014

Alcoholic Blues

I tried to rewrite this so it would be relevant to the current marijuana prohibition but I gave up. If anyone wants to send me some alternate lyrics I'll try to sing it. It's a novelty song with the music written by the brother of songwriting great Harry Von Tilzer, Albert.

Words by Edward Laska
Music by Albert Von Tilzer
Key: F Major

Night Owl wearing a hat?
I'm going to say that there was about 1 year during which prohibition was imminent in the U.S. The Volstead act didn't pass until October of 1919, but that whole year the wheels were in motion to put an end to excessive drinking so Von Tilzer knew what was coming and wrote this song. The lyrics suggest it was actually written in the exact three months after the Volstead act, as it was published in 1919 but prohibition is referred to as something already certain. "So long high-ball, so long gin....I've got the blues---since they amputated my booze."

It's an F blues but the verse has a few minor chords

Another historical note is the numerous references to WWI. "Oh that war has made me blue." "Lordy, Lordy, war is...(well), you know, I don't have to tell." I love the way he twisted away at the last second from saying "war is hell." When I was reading the music at first I did not not really grasp that connotation. Then I listened to the popular Billy Murray recording I heard how that word "Well" is actually a clever parenthetical space holder substitute for "Hell". It should have two commas around it so I know to pause before and after saying it.*

There's a line, "When Mister Hoover said to cut my dinner down, I never even hesitate I never frown." that refers to food rationing among the combatants. Food rationing involves not hauling your saggy ass to the Chinese Buffet to throw back a hundred chicken wings until your heart throbs in despair trying to push blood through your clogged veins and your fat bulges against your clothes. It means eating only when you are hungry and eating sparsely and not wasting tons and tons of food like a disgusting cyclops. Even apes and sharks and rodents don't waste food like repulsive humans. In 1918 the US Food Administration organized campaigns to remind people not to eat too much. I laugh when I see that basket of vegetables that most people today wouldn't even recognize as food.

The lyrics seem to suggest that after two years of rationing people needed alcohol to make up for the deprivation.

Lordy Lordy

There is a line in the song about alternatives to beer...Bevo and Ginger Ale. "I want the real stuff by the pail." Bevo was called "Near Beer" and while Ginger Ale had history before prohibition, Bevo pretty much was an alternate to beer beginning in 1916 when the military banned alcohol because they had some crazy idea that men fighting war should be sober and remaining in production through prohibition and beyond.

I remember O'Douls "near beer" from my youth and honestly I never liked the taste of it or real beer and the culture of beer drinking is beneath me. I prefer salts and sugar to the fermented beverage. Every keg party I went to invariably ended with me stepping in vomit. The whole underage drinking tradition in my youth seemed all wrong, like it was predictable and unoriginal. I felt we were missing something important but I was overwhelmingly in the minority and I lacked the fortitude and virtue to defend my principles until the very last year of high school when I concluded it really was a repulsive, generic habit that only the lowest philistines enjoyed. I see now it was a crude ritual of initiation into adulthood that we teenagers invented in the absence of any parental engagement.

Alcohol prohibition failed because organized crime overpowered local law enforcement. The demand for alcohol was simply too strong to stop. The average speakeasy patron or bootleg whiskey drinker probably didn't like the news of gangs fighting one another for turf, but they must've rationalized it like, "Well, I'm drinking this illegal whiskey that came from a bootlegger who shot up a street and killed a bunch of people, but I didn't personally shoot anyone so I'm not guilty and even if I have some guilt, it's worth my guilt to drink bootleg whiskey."

Something like that. Collectively, the demand for booze exceeded the demand for safe streets and I think people still have the same collective conclusion but now it not only applies to booze but to all drugs. America is a Puritan Nation who has lost its way, and the wide wealth disparity and opportunities also lead to embedded problems. If the money to be earned from trafficking drugs is more than the opportunities at Walmart then it make economic sense to risk the penalties to pursue the reward. Most drug salesmen and users aren't activists, they are entrepreneurs dealing in a low quality, easily produced item that has gained value due to the laws that limit its use.

In a perfect world, I think in the long run it's about as easy to be a Journeyman Electrician in the construction trade than it is to sell drugs. I mean, if you can sell drugs successfully then you can be an electrician....or a carpenter or welder or concrete form setter or diesel mechanic. The skills involved are not all that different. The trades are worth looking into in a perfect world. Women tend toward nursing and teaching but there are no physical barriers between them and the trades just mentioned. However, the world is not perfect so what I see is the lack of trade schools in some areas and the over abundance of trade schools in other places. Also, there is a perpetuating problem of poverty that's too complicated to explore right now.

How does this relate to drugs and Albert Von Tilzer? Good question. I drifted into Oggysphere orbit for a second but I've recovered and this is all important because I feel the government's prohibition on drugs has made being a drug dealer a legitimate pursuit on a par with industrial welding. See? Selling pot or crack in small quantities should lead quickly to starvation because it's not profitable. It simply should not be possible to survive on the money one makes from selling drugs individually...but it is. Why? Because there's good money to be made. Why? Because these ordinarily surplus items have huge added value because they are illegal.

I live in a country where beer is about as expensive as water. In fact, sugar soda is more expensive than beer. You must sell beer in bulk if you merely want to won't profit much but you'll survive. Try selling beer by the can on the street and you'll see it's not practical. You'll quickly get drunk to numb the pain of how little money you made selling beer. There is no money to be made in beer. In fact, the beer stores, Cervecerias, probably make more money per unit on a bag of chips.

I would like to go back in time to 1913 and experience the actual drinking culture of that time so I could understand what they were dealing with. Maybe it was worse than I think. Maybe drunks were dying left and right, killing each other with knives, falling off bridges, raping, murdering, riding their horse into school playgrounds. I don't know. Clearly, they had reached a breaking point and the temperance movement suddenly didn't sound so crazy. Or maybe it's a rare example of political special interests dominating at the same time as public apathy was the majority. Maybe Congress was practicing what it would be like to amend the Constitution. I don't know the truth of the specifics but I know their intentions were probably not to pave the way for organized crime to dominate a decade of alcohol abuse leading up to The Depression and the Dust Bowl.

I was watching a talk on drug prohibition and the speaker argued that the roots of the movement came from Chinese railroad workers smoking opium in California and a xenophobic state legislator decided the way to keep The Chinese in their place, to control their actions, was to make opium illegal. No one thought opium was bad but they were suspicious of The Chinese and opium was their excuse. The embattled Sergio Leone movie "Once Upon a Time in New York" revolves around this particular time period and includes opium, organized crime and bootleg liquor, the trifecta of 1925. There was a certain glamor surrounding organized crime but when you really think about the product itself the only glamor was the fact it was illegal.

History suggests there is no eliminating stimulants but when the fleshy needs of Man overwhelm the need for a sober citizenry the call for reform goes up. To punish or to mitigate are the main choices and since mitigation usually requires hard work that will address varied causes governments usually opt for the easy punishment route. They know it doesn't really work but they also don't want to extend their realm into the areas that mitigation will surely lead them to, family, oppression, stress, addiction, resources. It's a little contradictory to say that a person is sovereign and the government may not intrude on their personal life...but they can be incarcerated nevertheless. ?? That's crazy. If you are going to incarcerate someone then I'd say you've already gone to the limit of infringing on their sovereignty so addressing mental and economic problems is not more intrusive. It's not the government's role to address these personal problems but the drug use will never go away if the problems aren't addressed and there we have the converging point that the U.S. is stuck at, periodically leaning towards punishment, and periodically leaning toward decriminalization. The underlying problem, being personal and outside of the realm of the government, can never be addressed so a government separate from a religion can not resolve this conflict. But there's hope;  Winston Churchill said, "America always does the right thing, after exhausting all other options."

I maintain a government can control the value of drugs by limiting their scarcity. The most valuable/desirable drug worldwide is probably aspirin, but you could never make a living selling black market aspirin. Why? Cause the shit is available at the Dollar Store. No, it doesn't get you high, but it will save your life if you have a fever.

The number of electricians and welders that will be needed to build the evacuation cylinders mankind will need soon is going to be enormous. The average high school student should look at drug dealing as the absolute worst kind of enterprise, tantamount to being a full-time vending machine. Collecting aluminum cans by the railroad track should be far more profitable than selling 1/4 oz bags of pot. Additionally, entering the electrical trade should be an opportunity all kids should know about. This is Oggy's two phase approach to drug abuse. For the love of God stop this insane and counterproductive war on drugs!

I guess I'm going to review this Prohibition song without once writing an anecdote about me being drunk or stoned. Cheers!

*While I was writing this essay I was listening to my 1950s radio station and Johnny Horton's catchy "The Battle of New Orleans" (1959) came on. I thought it was amusing because I had recently been reading about Andrew Jackson because I confused him with Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president (Jackson was dead by 1845), and then I didn't pay much attention until the line:

We held our fire 'til we see'd their faces well.
Then we opened up with squirrel guns and really gave 'em ... well...

 We fired our guns and the British kept a'comin. etc. ....

Isn't that funny? I had just written about a totally unrelated song recorded 40 years earlier and they both used the exact same technique to avoid saying "Hell". And earlier today a Billy Vaughn orchestral version of Sail Along Silv'ry Moon came on and I stopped and thought, That's the Bing Crosby tune from 1939. (And people say I'm wasting my time in Mexico?)
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.