Here’s another nugget I uncovered while researching my forthcoming novel, Lonely Are the Brave.
After the Armistice in November 1918, Americans worried that exposure to big, bad Europe would change (corrupt?) their boys. A hit song of 1919 addressed that fear: “How ’Ya Gonna Keep ’Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?” In the song, which strikes a lighthearted mood, a farmer grins slyly as he tells his wife their boy will come back restless, thirsting for what he’s glimpsed in France.
But you have to ask whether the father’s good-humored acceptance reflects rural attitudes or those of city slickers who wrote popular music.
The slickers in question were composer Walter Donaldson and lyricists Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis; the publisher was Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co.—Berlin, as in Irving Berlin, who gave us “Easter Parade,” “White Christmas,” “Cheek to Cheek,” and a bazillion other standards.
“How ’Ya Gonna Keep ’Em” appeared on the vaudeville stage and at the Ziegfeld Follies; an early jazz band, James Reese Europe’s 369th Infantry Band, performed the song regularly and cut a hit record. Two well-known singers followed suit.
But not every soldier thought Europe a swell place (or, as Twenties slang later would have it, the gnat’s eyebrows). In April 1919, the Seattle Times interviewed a Washington infantryman who said he was glad to come home to a “real country” and criticized the Belgians for not “dressing like us” and “clinging to their old ways.”
However, if he ever wished to buy an alcoholic drink or a condom, he might have paused to reconsider Europe’s advantages: Both transactions were criminal acts in his home state.