Have you ever watched TV late at night and caught commercials for those Time-Life collections of the music of the Greatest Generation? Did you subsequently find yourself longing for the days when America could more or less get its act together, do a job somewhat efficiently, and perform ridiculously energetic dance steps to big-band music? Did you think, "Gee, if only I had the kind of faith in my political leaders that my grandparents had in theirs, maybe I'd even pitch in to put my life on the line in this war of ours?" Well, I'd still try to talk you out of it, but I do understand the power of a good tune.
During World War II, our forebears had the Andrews Sisters and Nat King Cole. Today? Well, we've got Fergie and My Chemical Romance. Breaks a man's heart. You know, I'm not being fair here. I'm sure there was a lot of completely awful music back then, too, but most of it never even made it to wax. I guess wartime rationing had its upsides.
The pop artistic output of a culture during wartime is always a fascinating barometer of that society's morale. This week, the Bowers Museum of Art presents a lecture with educator Larry Maurer, who will discuss the songs of World War II that perked up America's spirits, soothed its troubled soul and inflamed its patriotic energy. These were the songs that played on the radio as men joined up, women flooded the workplace . . . and African-Americans still had to drink from designated fountains. I wouldn't want anyone to romanticize it too much. That generation may have won the war, but mine has won the fight against idealism.
Larry Maurer presents Music of World War II at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 567-3600; www.bowers.org. Thurs., May 17, 1:30 p.m. $7-$9.