Here’s a little mini tutorial for our decidedly dopey conservative ‘leadership’, all those pompous pumpkin heads who still struggle to gain a remedial understanding of the plain and simple concept of shaping culture. So for those Talking Heads who may have missed my previous Culture for Dummies post entitled The Unbearable Stupidity of Conservatives, I offer from the grab bag of American history, a little factual fable for the stubbornly fatuous.
Once upon a time, when American GIs were slogging their way across the Pacific and getting their butts blasted on the beaches of Europe, the federal government of the United States, in its ever insatiable hunger for the too-few funds of the patriotic faithful, levied an excise tax against the restaurant and entertainment industries. The Cabaret Tax, as it was called, gobbled up a hefty rate of revenue from the dance club and roadhouse owners across the country. These establishments provided the venues for the bands and singers and the popular dance music that young Swing-crazy customers came to hear and cheer.
Dramatic shifts in popular culture are usually assumed to result from naturally occurring forces such as changing tastes or demographics. But the Big Bands didn’t just stumble and fall behind the times. They were pushed.
In 1944, a new wartime Cabaret Tax went into effect, imposing a ruinous 30% (later merely a destructive 20%) excise on all receipts at any venue that served food or drink and allowed dancing. By 1949, the hotel dine-and-dance-room trade was a third of what it had been three years earlier. The Swing Era was over.
But clubs that provided strictly instrumental music to which no one danced were exempt from the Cabaret Tax. It is no coincidence that in the back half of the 1940s a new and un-danceable jazz performed primarily by small instrumental groups emerged as the music of the moment. Bebop was born.