As the Old Song Goes, Just Smile Though Your Heart is Breaking...

These days feel like the not-so-great Depression, don't they?  I wish someone would change the title of the era we keep getting compared to, and call it something like the "gigantic" first Depression or the "Awful" 1930s Depression. The word "Great" is just the wrong adjective when it comes to having to go through something so similar in 2009. To me, the past economic crisis is now "the first Depression".  No matter - whatever the economists or politicians call it, these times are pretty rough and depressing.

Yet not all the Depression-history-as-role-model is bad, kids. In fact, there were some amazingly creative and tremendously innovative works and products that emerged in the 1930s. Here are several intuitive ways to lift your spirits and elevate your mood, simply by revisiting the 1930s and early 1940s (pre WWII, when the first Depression ended) and sampling what worked then.

Lift your spirits #1 with a Fine and Dandy cocktail. The tail-end of the 1920s and early part of the 1930s coincided with Prohibition (now that's  a double whammy, when you think about it). Nevertheless, the more creative types who were making gin in their bathtubs found ways to make their alcohol taste better by adding a few extra ingredients, like those found here in the vintage drink, Fine and Dandy. The recipe calls for  1 1/2 ounces of gin,  the juice of 1/4 lemon,  1/2 Triple Sec, and 1 dash of bitters. Pour the mixture into one of those cool aluminum or glass cocktail shakers, over ice, shake vigorously and then strain it into a cocktail (martini)  glass. Serve with a cherry on top. Don't you feel better already? Even before the first taste? Art Deco/Depression era cocktails like this one are great spirit-lifters (in more ways than one). How cheery are the names of the drinks, such as Fallen Angel, Poop Deck, or Maiden's Prayer? Whenever I feel haughty-naughty, I order something like a 1930s Smiler or a Horse's Neck at a restaurant, and wait for the waiter's inevitable "my bartender couldn't find the recipe."  I feel a bit smug (and, therefore, immediately uplifted) when I tell the bartender how to make the drink I just ordered (if you try this, be sure you have the recipe,on hand, before ordering). See how many different ways 1930s cocktails can lift your mood? (You don't even have to sip one to have some fun) . Find more recipes  for 1930s cocktails,  on the internet or at your favorite bookstore, and surprise your friends with something more daring than a scotch-rocks.  Here's looking at you, kid!

Lift your spirits #2 with a viewing of It Happened One Night, the great classic, 1934 film starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Winner of 5 Academy Awards, this great black-and-white film is as charming today (maybe even more so, given our current doldrums) than when it appeared 65 years ago. One of the greatest "escape from the reality of hard times" films of any year, this screwball comedy spawned a number of other  films (i.e., The Thin Man series). Famed cartoonist, Friz Freleng reported he created Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam and Pepe LePew, after seeing this movie. Talk about art imitating life!  If you're a movie fan, you've probably noticed how most current films are so gloomy. but the folks back in the 1930s didn't see it that way - they knew laughter was the best medicine and the best escape for people sick of feeling miserable. So check out It Happened One Night and any other Depression Era movies that can make you laugh and improve your mood. The 1930s film-makers were seriously funny when they needed to be - an idea that contemporary film-makers should follow.

Lift your Spirits #3 by reading a great vintage book or writer from the 1930-40s era. The wonderful poet/writer/reviewer Dorothy Parker's sarcastic perspective ("You might as well live...") is good medicine to prompt you out of your doldrums. Parker was prolific from the 1920s -30s-40s,writing  witty articles and scathing reviews that can't help but make you smile (even slyly). You can find a lot of her work in her collections or snippets and quotes on the internet. Although Parker's work has a bite to it, it's rather like the bite of a  toothless Airedale. I also can't say enough about the great vintage Sci-Fi/Mystery author Fredric Brown (a relatively unknown 'writer's writer') who came along in the late 1930s and wrote throughout the 1940s and 50s. His highly-creative short short stories and fiction are full of double-meanings, word play and  puns. Imaginative, creative, insightful - a pulp writer (at the beginning) of uncommon talent whose work effortlessly propels you out of your world and into another! There's nothing like vintage pulp fiction, with its crazy titles and awesome graphics (Galactic Derelict, for example) to allow you to escape, which then improves your mood. You can find many genre to choose from in vintage pulp fiction: from Zane Grey's westerns to cheesy romance to collectible sci-fi (like books by Brown and Andre Norton). If you find research a great way to mood-enhance, seek out the kitschiest, ribald fiction of the 1930s and 1940s (you can even start your own collection). For example, see if you can find Let the Chips Fall about a wanna-be radio actress in Hollywood. Reading this is a visit to the funny farm! Long out of print, but still available on some rare book sites, this short novel was briefly banned as obscene in 1949.  Unintentionally, this book is so full of itself,with tales of risque Hollywood in the 1940s, it's hard to put down. I'm cheered by the very thought that people once fought so hard to land a part on the radio, and what they'd do to get that job! Also interesting is what was considered vulgar and obscene 60 years ago (now, there's a chuckle for you).  This book is far from the best of the 1940s, but it is goofy-hilarious, if that's what you need. Check out writers from the 1930-40s (both good and bad, famous and infamous) to see for yourself how much better a  65-to-75-year-old read can make you feel.

Lift your spirits #4 with a visit to the Art Museum to view art created during the first Depression. Look for the work of artists who, under sponsorship by the government (the WPA and the FAP) and private funding, created  paintings and murals for public buildings across the nation. These artists include George Biddle, Willem de Kooning, Rockwell Kent, Ben Shahn, and many more well-known. At the museum, you may also spot some of the amazing  black-and-white documentary photographs (photojournalism) of the era - for example, the work by Dorthea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White. Their striking photographs of America's Dust Bowl are forever etched in public consciousness. The artists and photographers of the 1930s to pre- WWII, captured the spirit and resolve of the Depression era. An estimated 3,600 artists produced 16,000 art works shown across American in 1000 cities and towns.  This public art work exemplifies what art meant, in a bad time, and how artists' works reflected the era. This is particularly inspiring if you're an artist, but no less so for those supporting art, good times and bad. Mood enhancement comes from viewing the incredible works turned out by artists paid very little, who were able to create works that endured and move us, still. No challenge was too big to halt the creation of art.

There are a dozen other ways to cheer yourself, ala the 1930s (I recommend a great cake donut dunked in black coffee, for example), but I think you catch my point with the four spirit-lifters mentioned above. Looking back, we can see clearly how creativity sustained and enobled people caught up in the first Depression. Looking forward, we await the grand art, writing and innovative products to come out of this current crisis. Keep your eye on the 20 and 30-year-olds, who are feverishly working to express these times.


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