Swing music was banned in Nazi Germany because it had been influenced by black people, but propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels made an exception for Charlie and His Orchestra, a group that recorded propaganda parodies of popular swing tunes in English and broadcast them to the UK. I listened to some this week and found them hilarious, and then I tried to unpack why I found them hilarious and whether it makes me a bad person. First off, though they're occasionally racist - and no different from American music in that regard - they don't really promote Nazi ideology. They're meant to demoralize, not convert. So mostly they just make fun of Winston Churchill and FDR with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer and gloat about how badly the war is going for the Allies. That alone, coming from the side that ultimately lost, is hilarious to me. And the German accents juxtaposed with the English lyrics and the very American genre kind of amuse me too. And once in a while they raise a legitimate point, because it's not like the Allies were perfect. In my favorite of these songs, they sing to the tune of "Bye Bye Blackbird:"
I never cared for you before,
Hong Kong, Burma, Singapore -
Bye, bye, Empire!
India I may lose too,
Then I only have London Zoo -
Bye, bye, Empire!
I mean, the UK wasn't torturing and murdering minorities, but colonialism was still pretty crappy. And come to think of it, eugenics was first proposed by British scientists and developed by American scientists. But anyway, this song is hilarious to me because it was prophetic. For once Charlie's gloating was justified. I don't know if I'm justified in putting these songs on a playlist, but I rationalized that I was. Diversity is a big priority for my playlists, and I'm especially intrigued by the perspectives of the "others," the "bad guys" from the western perspective, like Germans in the thirties and forties and Russians in pretty much every other decade. And I had some German songs from the thirties and forties and I made sure none of them were promoting Nazi ideology. And now these are actual Nazi songs, but I rationalized that they don't cross the line because, while I've so far declined to include the most overtly racist old songs, I feel it would be dishonest to only include old songs that measure up to current standards of equity and tolerance. If these songs were part of the forties (and aren't calling for the extermination of minorities) then they should be included in the forties. That's what I told myself. I may be wrong, but I'm usually biased toward whatever conclusion lets me have more music.
Just today I found another (and better) perspective from the forties, an EP by underrated black folk singer Josh White entitled "Southern Exposure: An Album of Jim Crow Blues." I found it interesting because, while black musicians have recording music prolifically for almost as long as music has been recorded, I haven't found many songs prior to, say, the nineties that acknowledge, let alone protest against their second-class status in the United States. Even when they sing about poor economic conditions or legal troubles, they leave race out of it. Obviously there are exceptions like Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" and Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam," but this is what I've found in general. I would imagine they didn't want to alienate white people from buying their records. So anyway, it surprised and delighted me to find a song from the forties that names Jim Crow, let alone a whole EP that criticizes Jim Crow. Josh White pulls no punches about racial discrimination in housing, employment, and the US military. This EP makes me so happy.
I recently watched the new Disney+ series The Muppets Mayhem, the first installment of the franchise to focus on The Muppet Show's house band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. They aren't among the more popular Muppets, but half the jokes in this show are about how every other musician alive has befriended, partied with, dated, and/or been influenced by them, and I did find these jokes are funny every time. (There are enough celebrity cameos for three seasons of The Muppet Show.) In order to keep them from being upstaged by Kermit or Fozzie, there are only three other recurring Muppet characters - all original to this show - and some little Muppet bunnies and a brief cameo appearance by two old characters in the finale. At times it feels weird that this Muppet band is navigating an almost entirely human world, but the fact that they do so and nobody comments on it is funny. The human characters are lovable and three of them have an absolutely riveting love triangle that resolves in the most satisfying possible way. There's also a fair amount of focus and commentary on Smartphones, social media, and digital stuff in general, which kind of makes me despise the modern age even while I recognize what a glorious time it is to be alive, and sometimes the characters use Gen Z slang that kind of rubs me the wrong way as a crotchety almost-thirty-year-old. But of course we don't want the Muppets to stay stuck in the seventies because that would be ridiculous too. The major downside of the show is that after seeing Floyd so often, I noticed how creepy it is that his eyes are hollow tubes.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.