Monday, April 20, 2009

Century-Old Digressions

I filed a story today with a headline that included "put the kibosh on." I'm always glad when I'm able to work that phrase into something. It's good to keep odd phrases with obscure origins alive, and it's just well enough known so that editors aren't likely to cut it out if it otherwise fits. I never heard the phrase growing up, but only when I went to see a college production of the musical Oh, What a Lovely War! in the spring of 1980, which includes the song "Belgium Put the Kibosh on the Kaiser."

While looking into that song, I ran across this YouTube channel. Well-crafted little videos made with early 20th-century moving pictures, if you like that kind of thing. I know I do. I liked the "Tribute to Teddy Roosevelt" and the Billy Murray version of "Over There" especially. After looking at that and a few other videos, I went on to this commercial site, which has all sorts of early 20th-century curiosities.

Including, if you look closely enough, a link to a song genre lost to time: Prohibition Songs. The lyrics of four songs are found there, with the present-day warning, "These pages are provided as an historical reference and do not reflect the views of the website owner." But who would have views like this in 2009?

There'll be plenty of food for eating,
There'll be plenty of clothes for wear,
There'll be gladness in ev'ry meeting,
There'll be praise to outmeasure prayer,
There'll be toys each day for baby,
And then Papa at home will stay,
And a heaven on earth will the bright home be,
When the Prohibs win the day.

-- "When Prohibs Win the Day" (Palmer Hartsough and J.B. Herbert, 1903)

To be real frank, I'd rather be a crank,
And stand right square on the Prohibition plank,
Than to be in the rank of the blankety, blank, blank,
Who votes the self-same ticket as the mountebank.

-- "Cranks!" (Charles M. Fillmore, 1898)

On the other hand, the songs "The Prohibition Chariot" and "Civilize the Philippines" go beyond quaintly obsolete polemics and into racist territory. The one about the Philippines is particularly odd, asserting that Americans' use of alcohol is getting in the way of civilizing the Philippines: "Our civilization's married," it asserts, "She is now the bride of rum."

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