Welcome to the penultimate post and the next decade in this series, 1911-1920. This continues the Tin Pan Alley era - this could actually count as its glory days - and ragtime, and its various variants still ruled the...whatever they called airwaves at the time. (I actually know this: live shows and sheet music.) There was plenty of Irish and/or sentimental stuff too, but ragtime was what the hip crowd bopped to. Another novelty showed up at this time (this is from Richard Crawford’s America’s Musical Life: A History (reunited and it feels so good)):
“…starting in 1912 public dance halls opened in large numbers, and so did hotel ballrooms and dance halls in cafes, restaurants, and cabarets. A flood of new dances fueled the explosion…Dancing in earlier days had been a formal activity of learned steps and motions of the feet. But the new dances, many of them infused with syncopation and bearing such names as the fox-trot, turkey trot, Texas tommy, bunny hug, and lame duck, encouraged more spontaneous movements.”
Which reminds me, I need to do a unit on American dances. And vaudeville. Dammit! The business of staying on the righteous (focused) path gets harder as you go, not easier. Moving on, later in the same chapter that the quote above came out of, Crawford staked a pretty bold claim for all the above:
“These songs suggest how, during the 1910s, the social identification of ragtime shifted away from its African-American roots toward the expression of a new consciousness: a sense that Victorian’ culture’s days were numbered and that ragtime was both a symptom and celebration of its decline.”
Meanwhile, in the world beyond music (and perhaps as a reaction to?), World War I would dominate the decade, which contained the entirety of one of the dumbest wars in human history (which says plenty). But it also arguably counts as the first decade when Big Government (and the concomitant One-World conspiracies) well and truly took off thanks to the federal income tax, the Federal Reserve System, the U.S. government actually enforced an anti-trust suit (against Standard Oil; yes, that’s counter-intuitive). On the global stage, Woodrow Wilson did his damnedest to get the United States to join the predecessor to less slickly-branded predecessor to the United Nations, the League of Nations. Elsewhere, and completely in keeping with America’s peculiar definitions of freedom and oppression, this decade got the wheels rolling on Prohibition. The real stupidity didn’t start until 1920, so that’s one terrible idea starting where this chapter ends.
It’s really a lotta war shit, after that - e.g., the U.S. invading Nicaragua to enforce on behalf of American and European banks or riding into Mexico after Pancho Villa - while, on the brighter side, a bunch of national parks were established, along with a National Park Service to manage them, and Scouts, both Boy and Girl, to appreciate them. Some technological stuff happened - air mail service and the first mechanized assembly line - but it lacks the “WOW” factor of the 19th century’s breakthroughs. The first flight across the continental United States should make you feel better: New York to Pasadena clocked in at just over 82 hours.
All in all, it was a much, much slower world. Not just in that vehicles puttered compared to now, but communications and the overall size of the world. A lot of the music still sounds that way, too. So, let’s go forward…