So I spurred my mule, and I went riding on down the road
Minding my own business, ’n’ I wasn’t bothering a soul.
So finally I rode into town,
And I seed the man standing at the window,
pulling off his clothes.
Every time he’d pull off a piece,
he threw it out the window.
So I say, “Hey bub, I say, what goes?”
He said, “Look bub, if you knows what I paid for this room
And what’s in it, them clothes I’m throwing out the window’d be out of style when I come down.”
Big Bill Broonzy may have been intending only to satirize the cult of fashion, but his parable was a larger reflection of the times. Born in rural Arkansas and reared in a large family, Broonzy’s life—service in World War I, a move to fast-paced urban Chicago, the pursuit of fame (largely unsuccessful), alcoholism, despair—could be a fable for his generation. “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve...