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Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? Laughin' to Keep from Cryin'


with Bill Rossiter

retired instructor of literature and folklore, chair of the Humanities Division at Flathead Valley Community College

During the Dirty ’30s, network radio and Hollywood followed Washington’s lead in sturdily ignoring the Depression, assuring us that "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries," and that "prosperity is just around the corner." But the rural and small-town musicians, the ones who never made the charts, played a different tune. They saw the Depression for what it was and poked wicked fun at Wall Street, greed, the American dream and, especially, at Herbert Hoover ("Look here, Hoover, see what you done. You went off fishin’, let the country go to ruin"). Montana was "ahead of the curve" when it came to dust bowls, grasshopper plagues and economic hard times. Montana newspapers from the ’20s tell of bank failures, crop losses, and deserted homesteads—issues not widely reported in the rest of the nation until a decade later. "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" views the Depression, with a glance at Montana’s early start, not through history and literature, but through songs and "illiterature," looking at what happened to the common folks most affected by it. This bareknuckle report on the state of the union during the Dirty ’30s is accompanied by banjo, guitar and autoharp.