The Great Depression: More Relevant Than Ever (Pt. 1)
I got an assignment in my US History course to create a 10-song playlist of songs that reflect either the Great Depression, dust bowl, or stock market crash, and I thought that was awesome. Our teacher played the class the tune "Dust Bowl Dance" by Mumford and Sons; she said to use that for inspiration and try to find songs that had some relevance. I banded together with my best friend and fellow music lover, Tristan, and we created the best playlist that teacher will ever see.
In the first of this two-part post, I will post five out of the ten songs, and the reason I chose to point out their similarities to the time of the Great Depression.
1. “The Hand That Feeds”- Nine Inch Nails.
This song is about abusing what you get, even if you know that it’s wrong. This was a very relevant issue during the time of the Great Depression; people had tried to use up all the resources available to them, causing more harm than good. “Biting the hand that feeds” is exactly what those affected by the GD did. Also, the angst in the song is reflective of the frustration those struggling at the time felt. Even though the people wanted things to change, they didn’t quite know how; they were “holding on”, but weren’t quite sure for what. The hand that fed them was overused and that ruined a lot in the long run.
2. “$$$$”- Desaparecidos.
This song is very much about economic struggle. The line, “I’m gonna start a factory the size of a country; I’m gonna teach them all to work for liberty” has a lot to do with how during the GD, the government tried to create jobs just to help in the recovery process. However, the “working for liberty” aspect of it has to do with how people went on strike and became angry because of the lack of employment. They felt as though their liberty was a right, and yet didn’t work for it. Also, with the song title being all dollar signs, the lyrics have a lot of allusions to making money. The financial aspect of the time period is something really hard for people today to understand, but this song does a good job of likening the feelings.
3. “Downfall Of Us All”- A Day To Remember.
This song is about leaving a town, specifically the place in which you grew up. A lot of people headed to California to seek jobs, and even left their families sometimes (“try not to miss me when I’m gone”). The words, “My life’s turned upside down” express how leaving a place that’s very familiar to you can be scary but necessary if you want to continue supporting those around you. The towns that were affected by the dust bowl were, essentially, the “downfall of them all” because of the poor conditions, huge mess, and it tore those areas apart. Also, this genre of music can feel quite upset, which adjoins to the emotions of the dust bowl.
4. “California”- Metro Station.
This song is all about going to California. In order to be employed and financially stable (or as close as possible), those in the middle of the country headed west. “Don’t look in the mirror- the past you don’t wanna see.” No one really wanted to dwell on their damaged homes or friends they may not see again; the past was a scary thing, but the future was worse. “We could leave this town, if only for the weather,” is paralleled to how destructive and unpleasant the dust storms and dry land was in the dust bowl. The upbeat tone of this song may not directly reflect the emotions of the time properly, but it certainly captures the hopeful feeling of a new life.
5. “Well Whiskey”- Bright Eyes.
This song kind of has a Midwestern feel on its own, so the sound goes well with the theme of the Great Depression. “When I got dry as a desert, I got mean- I was as lonely and empty as a canteen” is representative of not only how the land was, but how a lot of the people felt. It must have been lonely and an empty feeling to know that you’re essentially helpless and in a difficult situation. Additionally, a lot of individuals became drunk to pass the time and make themselves feel better, which touches of the alcohol aspect of this tune.
These songs hold a lot of different meanings, and trying to find ways to draw parallels to an event that’s considerably in the past wasn’t as difficult as we’d thought it’d be. You just have to put a bit more effort in, and we came up with some pretty cool explanations. Look for part two of this post; it’ll have the rest of the tunes!