DRY OUT THE NATION – SPEAKEASY, PROHIBITION and a very DRY SPEECH

p - headline

By the time Jane Allison, in the musical “Speakeasy”, has walked through one door into a speakeasy foyer and through another door into an automat, she realizes that the regular rules and expectations of time and space may not apply anymore.  So she is not as surprised as she might normally have been to suddenly find herself on a New York Street transported back in time to 1919, where society lady Caroline Chrysalides and Jane’s own cousin Dean Kitteridge are leading a “Dry March”, calling for the enactment of Prohibition.

P - march

Dry Out the Nation

 

Alice in pool of tearsJane Allison’s encounter with the dry movement tracks neatly with a parallel plot point in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, when Alice and a congregation of animals are nearly drowned in a pool of tears.  The mouse then attempts to dry off the wet and bedraggled crowd by giving an excessively “dry speech” about English history.

The mouse gives a very dry speech

The mouse gives a very dry speech

 

P women's temperanceSimilarly Dean, Caroline and the protesters decry that “we drown in drink” (see lyrics below).  The Dry Movement in America succeeded in making alcohol consumption illegal beginning in 1920.  It was greatly motivated by the many social ills – poverty, domestic abuse, addiction – that the proponents of Prohibition felt were greatly exacerbated if not caused by “The Devil Alcohol”.

P prohibThere was also a strong element of moral opprobrium attached to the cause, as alcohol consumption was seen as intimately linked with sexual vices.  Additionally class arrogance and xenophobia played a part, as the saloons, frequented mostly by the working class, and the beer halls, run mostly by German immigrants, were most vociferously targeted for scorn by the anti-alcohol brigade.  But the wealthy upper class were allowed to keep their private wine cellars even after Prohibition was enacted, as long as these wine cellars had been established before 1920.

The enactment of Prohibition however, rather than issuing in a more morally righteous time in the United States, ironically speeded up a loosening of social strictures.  Far from stopping the consumption of alcohol and all its supposed or actual attendant vices, Prohibition contributed to a widespread underground culture of illegal imbibing, especially in the cities, running parallel with much loosening of cultural and sexual norms in the country after World War 1.

P Prohibition satire

Anti Dry Movement Satire

A majority of the population still wanted to drink, and now habitually broke the law to do it.  Which led to the speakeasy, which was technically any establishment that sold illegal liquor during the Prohibition era.  In New York City 20 000 to 100 000 are estimated to have existed concurrently.  Speakeasies could be small bars tucked in basements and back alleys, or secret rooms hidden behind camouflaged entryways in “legitimate” stores, or large nightclubs that paid protection money to corrupt police officials to avoid raids.

SP speakeasyWith so many establishments existing outside the law or at least in the grey area between legal and illegal, opportunities for other activities outside the usual norm grew.  Thus alternative sexuality and gender expressions found havens in many speakeasies throughout New York City, giving rise to a growing Queer subculture.

Prohibition, enacted in part as a moral reaction, ironically indirectly encouraged the post WWI sexual revolution.  It wasn’t until the end of Prohibition in the 1930’s, and the strict controls then placed on obtaining legal liquor licenses, that moral conservatism succeeded in curbing and almost completely eradicating the alternative sexual subcultures that thrived during the Roaring Twenties.  But that is a story for a later post.

The musical Speakeasy to a great extent is about the Queer subculture that flourished under Prohibition as well as its ultimate demise.  You can learn more about Speakeasy here and here and listen to more of the music here.

 

DRY OUT THE NATION

 

PEOPLE HEAR THE NATION CRY

CALL OUT IN DESPERATION

HELP US MAKE THE NATION DRY

IT’S OUR ONLY SALVATION

 

THE DEVIL’S JUICE, BROTHER

HAS STRUNG A NOOSE, SISTER

TIED US UP, HUNG US HIGH

CUT US DOWN INTO THE GUTTER

 

WE DROWN IN DRINK, FATHER

OUR MORALS SINK, MOTHER

EVILS FLY, VIRTUES DIE

DEMONS LAUGH AND ANGELS SHUDDER

 

PEOPLE HEAR THE NATION CRY

CALL OUT IN DESPERATION

HELP US MAKE THE NATION DRY

IT’S OUR ONLY SALVATION

 

DRY OUT THE NATION

STOP THE WHISKEY CONFLAGRATION

WE’RE BESIEGED AND BATTERED BY THE DEVIL ALCOHOL

WHO HOLDS TOO MANY OF US IN HIS THRALL

 

DRY OUT THE NATION

RAISE A MORAL RESTORATION

FIGHT THE BEERHALL AND SALOON WITH FIERCE RESOLVE TODAY

BEFORE THE DAM BREAKS AND WE’RE SWEPT AWAY

 

BABY IS CRYING ALL DAY MONDAY

HUNGER WILL CLAIM IT SOON

DADDY SPENT TWO WEEKS’ EARNINGS SUNDAY

PRAYING IN THE SALOON

 

MOTHER CRIES: “HUSBAND, WHERE’RE YOUR WAGES?

WHAT OF YOUR CHILDREN’S NEEDS?”

FATHER JUST BALLS HIS FISTS AND RAGES

BEATS MOTHER TILL SHE BLEEDS

 

DRY OUT THE NATION

SAVE OUR SOULS FROM DEGRADATION

WE ARE LEACHING OUT OUR FATHERLAND’S VITALITY

TO FEED THE DRUNKARD’S IMMORALITY

 

DRY OUT THE NATION

END THE EVIL ESCALATION

DRIVE THE DEMON HOUND OF ALCOHOL BACK UNDERGROUND

SO THAT OUR CHILDREN MAY BE SAFE AND SOUND

 

THE DEVIL’S JUICE, BROTHER

HAS STRUNG A NOOSE, SISTER

TIED US UP, HUNG US HIGH

CUT US DOWN INTO THE GUTTER

 

 

PEOPLE HEAR THE NATION CRY

CALL OUT IN DESPERATION

HELP US MAKE THE NATION DRY

IT’S OUR ONLY SALVATION

 

 

DRY OUT THE NATION

STOP THE WHISKEY CONFLAGRATION

WE’RE BESIEGED AND BATTERED BY THE DEVIL ALCOHOL

WHO HOLDS TOO MANY OF US IN HIS THRALL

 

DRY OUT THE NATION

STEM THE SPIRITS STRANGULATION

FIGHT THE BEERHALL AND SALOON WITH FIERCE RESOLVE TODAY

BEFORE THE DAM BREAKS AND WE’RE SWEPT AWAY

 

DRY OUT THE NATION

CURB THE LURE OF LOW LIBATION

WE ARE LEACHING OUT OUR FATHERLAND’S VITALITY

TO FEED THE DRUNKARD’S IMMORALITY

 

DRY OUT THE NATION

BAN THE PILSNER PROPAGATION

DRIVE THE DEMON HOUND OF ALCOHOL BACK UNDERGROUND

SO THAT OUR CHILDREN MAY BE SAFE AND SOUND

SO THAT OUR CHILDREN MAY BE SAFE AND SOUND

 

 

About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 30 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
This entry was posted in LGBTQ Alphabet Soup, Literary Lyricism, Notes in the News, The Speakeasy Chronicles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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