The song with the above title was written in 1919 shortly after the end of WWI. Intended to be a cheerful little upbeat number, in fact it subconsciously tapped into deep underlying concerns in America – as so many popular songs do.
Even before the cataclysmic 1914-18 conflict young people were leaving the farms of the mid-West for the bright lights and perceived glamour of city life in LA, Chicago and New York. After the war the returning soldiers had enormous problems settling into plain and simple rural America after the sophistication of Europe – and, let’s face it, the excitement, cameraderie and terror of trench warfare where under the threat of violent death they experienced life more fully in one day than most people live in a lifetime. And so they became the “Lost Generation”.
Nowhere was this more manifest than in the incredible fevered artistic scene in Paris after WWI, where artists like Picasso, Braque and Miro, and musicians like Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Manuel de Falla were joined by American expatriate writers like Gertrude Stein, John dos Passos, Henry Miller and Ezra Pound.
The most outstanding example of this lost generation was of course my hero, Ernest Hemingway. Let’s face it, although his father was a suburban doctor, Hemingway was a naïve Kansas backwoodsman until at 19 he volunteered as an ambulance driver, was badly wounded on the Italian front, and found it impossible to settle back into the USA. He spent his struggling indigent and most fruitful artistic formative years in Paris – and that city was his only true love.
Perhaps it was because of his simple and innocent mid-American background that Hemingway was able to see with fresh and childlike eyes the breadth, the depth and the beauty of European culture?
In these more scientific times we diagnose soldiers returning from Afghanistan and the Gulf Wars as suffering from PTSD and feed them antidepressants to block out their experiences, instead of letting them work through the culture shock of being exposed to a violent and elemental tribal life far removed from the synthetic Big Mac/CocaCola lifestyle they have been force fed all their young and innocent lives. And who knows how many Hemingways we have lost in the process – although ironically it was depression that forced Hemingway to take his ownlife?
In the story “Ya Hear what Ah’m Saying” in my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind” I deal with the struggles of a traumatized soldier returning from the Viet Nam War – the second of America’s post WWII disastrous attempts to impose their one-size-fits-all free market so-called democracy on the world (think Korea and watch MASH). Like many Viet Nam vets he found it impossible to settle back into the USA after exposure to the brutality of American foreign policy and the subtle charms of Asia. Read Graham Greene’s THE QUIET AMERICAN for insights into the Viet Nam conflict.
If you want insights into the disease that afflicts The West’s relationship with the Middle East and its complexity from an expatriate perspective, preview my book THE GULF “Reaping the Whirlwind” at:
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