Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Broken Hearts and Bar Stools

“A woman drove me to drink, and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her.” – W.C. Fields

To some, the stereotypical Country song invokes images of dark, smoke-filled honky tonks and bar stools filled with jilted lovers drowning their troubles in a glass.

I have found very few ‘cryin’ in my beer’ type songs in Old Time or early Bluegrass music. In fact, the theme doesn’t appear regularly until after those thirteen darkest years of U.S. history known as Prohibition. Through the misguided meddling of groups such as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the 18th Amendment drove the social lubricant of alcohol from the picnics and family gatherings into back rooms and speakeasies. Although the 21st Amendment overturned the silliness of prohibition, alcohol is now tightly controlled in many states and still outlawed in some localities.

In my home state of Virginia there are no true bars. An establishment that serves alcohol must also serve food. In some states no one under the age of 21 is permitted to enter any establishment that serves alcohol. I believe that these ridiculous laws cause the very domestic trouble they were intended to cure.

When I visit my in-laws in Wisconsin the entire extended family walks to the local tap, where most of the village families meet to socialize. Not all come to drink. The bar is a gathering place where community bonds are strengthened. Youngsters learn important social skills under the watchful eyes of the entire village.

By demonizing alcohol a community is divided. Those that wish to partake of a drink are segregated from the rest of the community and even their own family. And so, the bar has too often become a place where indescresions are celebrated or mourned, away from the prying eyes of the community.

These anti-social laws have created a wealth of inspiration for Country songwriters that continues today.

Red Allen & the Osbourne Brothers - Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music.mp3

Osbourne Brothers - Hey Hey Bartender.mp3

Sons of The Pioneers - Cigareetes, Whusky, and Wild, Wild Women.mp3

Bob Wills - Bubbles In My Beer.mp3

Jerry Irby - Cryin' In My Beer.mp3

“Women and drink. Too much of either can drive you to the other.” – Michael Still


Blogger Greg said...

As a non-drinker I think you are correct that demonizing, prohibiting, and/or overregulating booze actually worsens the problems such measures intend to solve. However, I do (mildly) take issue with your characterizing the Prohibition era as the darkest years in US history: Surely the Civil War, the World Wars, and the Depression have some similar claim....

Great post and some excellent tunes...as always.

February 08, 2007 9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of my fondest childhood memories are those that took place in bars.

My father sold liquor and once a month, in the days when gas was cheap and cars were large, our family would always take a Sunday Drive through dad's territory in Southern Wisconsin. Dad wouldn't have a drink but only make social calls on the clients. Grandpa, on the other hand, would always have a bit of a taste test at each stop. To Grandpa, a beer on a Sunday afternoon was every bit as important as Communion on Sunday morning.

The rides home at the end of the day were fantastic! Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa and us 5 kids (the youngest always designated a seat on the floor) in a gigantic Oldsmobile rollling down the Wisconsin two-lanes exuding the sweet smells of beer, swiss cheese, rye bread and Nehi Orange!

We'd sing old songs like "Railroad Bill" and "Butcher's Boy". Grandma would tell us some of the greatest stories about the old days on the farm while Grandpa would start to tell a joke that would be instantly cut off by Mom or Grandma. And we kids, , , we'd soak it all in without ever realizing that this truly was what life was all about and life would seldom be any better.

I miss those days.


February 08, 2007 12:16 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Hi Greg,
I did type that with tongue (lightly)-in-cheek. Granted, the events you cited are very dark periods in history.
It is the cause of Prohibition that differs from those other events. The beliefs of a small, but politically active, group of people were forced upon the entire population. The results of which included the criminalization of otherwise law abiding citizens and the empowering of organized crime. The failed experiment of Prohibition was a lesson in social engineering that we unfortunately have not learned from.

February 08, 2007 8:06 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Hi John,
Great story, and so well phrased!
Those are some wonderful memories.
Thank you for sharing.

February 08, 2007 8:32 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

I wish I'd written John's line, "Some of my fondest childhood memories are those that took place in bars."

February 08, 2007 9:49 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Awwww, Gee,
Thanks guys!

February 08, 2007 9:58 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Ed: I agree with your assessment of Prohibitions cause & consequences and it's tragic we don't seem to have learned from it all. Have a great weekend -- get a good buzz on!

February 09, 2007 10:51 AM  

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