Nothing New Under the Sun

02 Jan

English: Artistic photograph of a dime in a ha...

Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

It’s amazing how much you can learn about history from simply listening to a song.

Brother, Can you Spare a Dime was the Great Depression’s anthem.  I’ve heard the title lines of that song sung in the past, but today is the first time that I’ve ever actually listened to the entire song.  I’m not just impressed. I’m amazed.

Wikipedia describes Brother as follows:

“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”, also sung as “Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?”, is one of the best-known American songs of the Great Depression.  Written in 1931 by lyricist E. Y. “Yip” Harburg and composer Jay Gorney, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” was part of the 1932 musical New Americana; the melody is based on a Russian lullaby Gorney heard as a child.  It became best known, however, through recordings by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee.  Both versions were released right before Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election to the presidency and both became number one hits on the charts. The Brunswick Crosby recording became the best-selling record of its period, and came to be viewed as an anthem of the shattered dreams of the era.”

I’m amazed by the song’s startling honesty.  “Brother” is a powerful indictment of an economic and political system under which ordinary men were enticed into working for a dream–other people’s dreams, government’s dreams, rich people’s dreams–and then left penniless.

•  I listened to Brother and understood for the first time why Americans came to love Franklin D. Roosevelt. Right or wrong, FDR offered the people a new dream, a New Deal, to replace the previous dream that hadn’t merely failed abysmally but had also been exposed as nothing but a con.  People didn’t elect FDR because they were angry about being impoverished.  They elected FDR and the Democrats because they were angry about being betrayed and exploited by Republicans and the rich.

I don’t mind living in poverty so long as my neighbors also live in poverty and we came to that poverty in a way that is “fair”.  Maybe we’ve suffered three years of drought and the crops failed.  We can work together and survive until it rains.  Maybe we’ve embraced an idea or even a dream that proved to be impossible.  We played the fool, so, we pay fool’s price.  But, hopefully, we learn from our mistake and forge ahead.

However, if I find out that I’m living in poverty because some smart sonofabitch figured out a way to get rich by betraying my trust, I will become a very unhappy (some might say enraged) camper.

After listening to Brother, I begin to see that the political revolution of A.D. 1932 (that ushered FDR and the Democrats into power) wasn’t merely a reaction to an economic depression.  It was a reaction to realizing that the Republicans, acting out of greed, ambition and self-interest, had exploited and betrayed the public trust.  The Democrats’ triumph in A.D. 1932 wasn’t really about the Depression; it was about the betrayal of trust.

Today, I think we’re experiencing much the same thing.  We’re being impoverished, but not by the weather or our own bad choices.  We are being impoverished by people in positions of power who we’ve trusted and who have knowingly exploited and betrayed our trust.

It’s not the poverty that makes us mad.  It’s not (as Bill Clinton said) “the economy, stupid.”  It’s the betrayal of trust and the treason that motivate us to despise the current government.  The cops aren’t here to “serve and protect” the people; they’re here to “serve and protect” the government.  The government isn’t “here to help us”–they’re here to exploit us for their own gain and for the gain of the special interests they truly represent.  It’s the betrayal of trust that infuriates the people, motivates the dissidents, and precipitates political revolutions.

•  Brother dominated American music during much of the Great Depression because it’s not just a song. Back then, Brother was  powerful statement of political sentiment. But it’s not hard to imagine that in the next several years, Brother might again become a politically powerful anthem.

If you really listen to the lyrics, you may be surprised to hear how well they describe today’s false dreams, endless wars, growing poverty, collapsing economy and betrayal by people in positions of power.

Nothing new under the sun.  There’ll always be people selling dreams that they know can’t come true. And there will also be people who’ll believe in impossible dreams.

Today’s “impossible dream”?  Fiat currency; the idea that we can actually pay our debts with worthless pieces of paper or electronic digits; the idea that we can become “magically” prosperous without ever actually paying our debts.

Here are three videos featuring Brother, Can You Spare a Dime.

I like the Al Jolson version best simply because his singing seems more articulate and a little angrier than the other two. He doesn’t merely lament the Great Depression. He is pissed.

I’ve never really liked Bing Crosby, but I do like the video featuring Bing’s version of Brother simply because it impresses me as having the best graphics.

I’ve never thought much of Rudy Vallee.  To me, he always seemed weak and frivolous.  The video featuring Vallee singing Brother actually inspires a bit of my contempt–but it’s still illuminating.

Vallee’s spoken introduction to Brother illustrates 1) how controversial this song was in A.D. 1931 (the year before FDR was first elected); and 2) Vallee’s cowardice.  I presume the song was already a significant “hit” and there was money to be made singing it.  But Vallee’s introduction implies that there might also be political liabilities for those who initially dared to popularize the song.

I suspect that, during the “Roaring Twenties,” Vallee had been singing to entertain the sons and daughters of the rich.  But Brother was a political anthem for the poor and newly impoverished.  I’ll bet that Vallee didn’t want to lose his audience of rich folks.  Therefore, in order to make buck off the poor and still remain popular with the rich, Vallee equivocated.  He explained to his audience that, Yes, he was singing this “radical” song, but it wasn’t really his style.  In other words, he’d sing Brother and take the money, but didn’t want any of the associated political liability.

Vallee’s attempt to distance himself from the very song he was signing, tells me that A.D. 1931 was characterized by enormous political controversy, division and polarization. A.D. 1931 was a dangerous time.

•  In listening to Brother Can You Spare A Dime, I begin to understand just how dangerous and revolutionary America had become as a result of the Great Depression.  I also begin to see how appropriate Brother could be for what may be the coming “Greater Depression”.

And, mostly, I see that there’s nothing new under the sun.  The world runs in predictable cycles.  The rich exploit the poor, the poor riot and tear down the “system”; a second “system” emerges, smart guys figure out new ways to get rich by exploiting the poor, the poor riot and tear down the second “system”; a third “system” emerges and once again, the rich devise ways to exploit the poor, etc..  (“The root of all evil” comes to mind.)

Al Jolson: (00:03:18):

Bing Crosby (00:03:11):

Rudy Vallee (00:03:40):

Brother is old news today.  But I think it might be surprisingly “current” within the next three years.


Posted by on January 2, 2013 in Depression, Economy, Values, Video


Tags: , , , , , ,

14 responses to “Nothing New Under the Sun

  1. 1st trustee

    January 2, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    Brother reply:
    “I don’t mind living in poverty so long as my neighbors also live in poverty and we came to that poverty in a way that is “fair”.”

    What exactly do you mean by this? As “fair” is quoted, I’ll assume you mean relatively. However, isn’t poverty an individual thing? People get there by the choices (or lack there of) they make. Why does one need to be miserable because the other is? Even in the event that another was devious in their dealings, may only be a sign that the one who was deceived needs to be alittle wiser and astute about the people he or she interacts with.

    The same is true for the one’s who have “betrayed the public trust.” Yes, they do suck, but as George Carlin put it best “Maybe the people suck.” How many times must one be fooled before they realize their actions are insane? Every year, “same shit [issues] different toilet [politician].”

    So how very apropos that this post be titled in such a way. Looking at current times with all the available knowledge, how can one be made at the very nature of the beast. It’s just like the fable of the Scorpion and the frog.

    “There was a scorpion asking a frog to carry him across a river. The frog is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, the frog would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion explains that this is simply its nature.” -Summarized version source: Wikipedia

    It is asinine to become enraged at people for doing what they have always done. They betrayers of trust have no reason to change because what they are doing continues to work. I’m not condoning their actions, but at what point do people start taking responsibilities for their actions?

  2. David Merrill

    January 2, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    Thank you Alfred!

  3. homelessholocaust

    January 2, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    By logging in you’ll post the following comment to Nothing New Under the Sun:

    Although it may be a tenuous leap, I am posting this discourse based on the Title, the Disillusionment, the Betrayed Generation & the Shape of The Present Violent Generation of Childrens. The debate over the Effect of Violent Computer Games should be Settled with these 2 Videoclips: From the Movie, saw, 1:39 can you watch 1 & 1/2 Minutes and believe children playing the GAME marketed in the Clip Below, playing Hours & Hours on end, in “Insane Mode,” would not have effect?

    It is asinine to become enraged at people for doing what they have always done. They betrayers of trust have no reason to change because what they are doing continues to work. I’m not condoning their actions, but at what point do people start taking responsibilities for their actions?

    You , Sir, have no idea of the ongoing works of the Fabian Society, the Stanford Group, the Efforts of My Uncle: Edward L. Bernays, with Ivy Lee & Walter Lippman, to create a Global Decremental Shift in Thinking, Beliefs & Morality. Uncle Edward published his book “Propaganda” in 1928. (Before Goebbels & the Reich has created a Negative connotation for the word) This short book is readily available as a PDF download ( as it is out of Copyright. Read and understand, that using the Manipulative Methods of the Corporations, who spends Billions to Affect the Beliefs and Habits of the People, and….do you remember the Onslaught of Adverts Promoting “Have The American Dream, NOW! No Down Payment, Low Interest, etc.” and People (the HERDS) watching TV (The Idol of STATE RELIGION Worship) Were Brought To a Belief in the State, that the State (Freddie Mack- Fannie Mack) and the FHA waould NEVER BETRAY them: The Talking Heads on the Image Of The Beast (All Networks Carried the Same Propaganda! They are All Owned by 3 International Corporations, under One Umbrella “The City of London, Rothchild Bank)

    you say PEOPLE SHOULD BE TAKEN AS TO BLAME? Why not Try to Reason with Television Addles, Sports Watching, Beer Guzzling Blue Collar Working Stiffs? Tell them THEY SHOULD HAVE READ THE Small Print! Haw Haw Haw, Your Arguement is CLASSICAL “Logical Fallacy: Appeal to Consequences of a Belief”

    But Mainly you attempt to lay the Blame on the “Peoples” is BELOW:
    The Appeal to Ridicule is a fallacy in which ridicule or mockery is substituted for evidence in an “argument.” This line of “reasoning” has the following form:

    X, which is some form of ridicule is presented (typically directed at the claim).
    Therefore claim C is false.

    This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because mocking a claim does not show that it is false. This is especially clear in the following example: “1+1=2! That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard!”

    It should be noted that showing that a claim is ridiculous through the use of legitimate methods (such as a non fallacious argument) can make it reasonable to reject the claim. One form of this line of reasoning is known as a “reductio ad absurdum” (“reducing to absurdity”). In this sort of argument, the idea is to show that a contradiction (a statement that must be false) or an absurd result follows from a claim. For example: “Bill claims that a member of a minority group cannot be a racist. However, this is absurd. Think about this: white males are a minority in the world. Given Bill’s claim, it would follow that no white males could be racists. Hence, the Klan, Nazis, and white supremists are not racist organizations.”

    Since the claim that the Klan, Nazis, and white supremists are not racist organizations is clearly absurd, it can be concluded that the claim that a member of a minority cannot be a racist is false.

    • Timmy

      January 2, 2013 at 9:57 PM

      If Bernays was literally your uncle, you must be quite elderly at this point….? Or do you use the term loosely, as in “great uncle” or such?

      • homelessholocaust

        January 3, 2013 at 9:25 AM

        Grandfather’s Father. John Edward Bernays. I am John Camp Bernays 3rd. Name CAMP entered the First Born legacy from “Robert Camp Bernays” who married John Philip Sousa’s Daughter, & founded the “Bernays School of Music” in Washington. Funny, I AM elderly…63. I hope to live as long as “Uncle Eddie”…he passed at 103 Years. I live my life in Faith , Faith in God, Faith in Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christo, and Faith that I am MIddel Aged- 40 Years To GO. I will not dislocate by Shoulders patting myself on the back, but I am 100% certain, death is NOT mandatory at 60, nor 70, nor 80, nor 90, notwithstanding Getting Run Over by a Freight Train could change my mind: Fot that real threat, I gave up hopping freight trains, I can now get Deep Discounts on Amtrak. Senior, & I earn “FREQUENT FLIER MILES” From Amtrak. At age 60 (2010) I started weaning off HOBO TRAVELS.

    • homelessholocaust

      January 3, 2013 at 9:28 AM


      • Tony

        January 5, 2013 at 11:07 AM

        Wow, that is one sick video.

  4. homelessholocaust

    January 2, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    Did You all KNOW these type of GAMES / MOVIES were Out There? & You can WATCH THEM if you are 8 Years Old! I copied these from YouTube.
    The GAME is probably RATED for MATURE 18+ , I don’t know, but KIDS WATCHING THIS is not a good idea.

    When will kids start taking responsibility for their actions, ? When we follow John Zerzen’s teachings, or at least read them, and find a middle ground.

    I am opposed to Television. I am Unwilling to Stay in a Room where a “LIVE” Tele-Vile-Sin is ON!

    I talk about not watching TV, people ask “Well, what DO you do?” Asinine Question? Or a Logical Question for a “True Believer”, The STATE is the SOURCE of ALL GOOD, The TELEVISION is the ACCESS to the HOLY OF HOLIES (Cspan)

  5. Anon4fun

    January 2, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    Television is the gateway drug to playing their game. Then it’s your evolutionist-materialist indoctrination cleverly disguised as an education. After that one-two punch at an impressionable age, they usually got you for life.

    • homelessholocaust

      January 3, 2013 at 9:32 AM

      And Mothers Sit Children in Front of IT as early as 6 Months old! I watched little Aiden, my Sister’s Daughter’s Son, in front of MUPPETS on WIDE FLAT SCREEN, His HEAD turned SIDEWAYS, DROOLING, FIXED GLASSY EYED, NOT SEEING YOU IF YOU WALK IN FRONT OF HIM! SCARED ME TO DEATH!

  6. brimp

    January 2, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    Tom Waits version is here:

  7. Jim

    January 2, 2013 at 4:35 PM

    Now one comprehends the urgency to remove weapons from the people.

    • homelessholocaust

      January 9, 2013 at 11:57 PM

      I rather would remove the Televisions/ Video Games/ Internet from the people.

      Only one comment on the GHASTLY Video. Yet this is only one of Hundreds on YouTube under “SAW movie” And my point is, This is Part of a Interactive Role Playing Video Game….and If it is on Youtube, unflagged, that tells ME that The Game CAN and IS being played by Children. And don’t you worry about whay These Children might Dream Up if they are Treated with XOLOF for “Internet Compulsive Obsessive Disorder? Or what ever the DSDM calls “Dependance on Internet ?”

      Makes me feel CREEPY, I wish I lived in a Third World country on another Planet!

  8. Timmy

    January 2, 2013 at 10:00 PM

    Yip Harburg was a great lyricist and is largely forgotten and unknown today. (as are most lyricists) He wrote the words to Somewhere Over the Rainbow, as well as many other classic songs.


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