The Happy-Go-Lucky Era

 

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Theaterical Poster for the Movie

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The March of the Happy-Go-Lucky Guys was a song that became a colossal hit in 1930s Russia. Its popularity tied to Grigory Aleksandrov’s musical film of a similar name, “Happy Go-Lucky-Guys”, it was a collaboration between a major Stalin-era lyricist, Vasily Lebedev-Kumach and Isaac Dunaevsky, who was seen as the King of Soviet Songwriters. These two men collaborated  multiple times to write the music for Aleksandrov’s plays.  This song promotes major themes of 1930s Russian culture such as the branding of heroes, scientific and technological triumphs, and the country’s triumph over “backwardness” while singing about the joys that singing brings to the world. The song also evokes a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism in every verse, persuading its audience that their culture and their homeland is worth the fight or struggle. Below, I have broken down the translation of each verse to show how the writers were successful in promoting these themes.

“Merry singing fills the heart with joy, It never will let you be sad. The countryside and villages love singing, big cities love singing too.”

This verse states that singing makes people happy and fills them with joy. This is how the writers first instill the upbeat attitude towards the new regime. One really important point to make about this verse is how it says that both cities and villages love to sing. During pre-revolution Russia, the villages and the cities were very different places with very different cultures and they never seemed to both be doing well. Very often, if the cities were booming, then it was because people left the villages to go find work and the villages were falling short. Or if the villages were thriving, it was because there was no work or food available in the cities and the workers flocked back to the villages, like after the Russian Civil War.  So by saying that both places love to sing, the writers are stating that both places are happy and thriving at the same time, which is a huge accomplishment of the socialist regime.

“A song helps us building and living, like a friend, it calls and leads us forth. And whoever goes through life singing, Will never fall behind. And Whoever goes through life singing, will never ever fall behind.”

This verse shows the country’s triumph over “backwardness”.  At the beginning of the Revolution, the country was behind the rest of Europe economically and culturally, and they were kind of backward. They began to catch up through the development of technology and the promotion of building cities and the working class. This verse not only suggests that singing and being happy helped them to build and develop, but will also continue to help them grow and will keep them from ever falling behind the rest of the world again.

“Stride forward, clan of Young Communists, Sing and joke, and make smiles bloom. We are taming space and time, we are the young masters of the earth.”

This is a call to the next generation to continue with the development of the new society. This verse is persuading the next generation to step up by telling them that by just being happy, singing and laughing and smiling, then they can do anyhting. They can take over the world. This evokes a sense of invincibility and power. The world is the young communist generation’s oyster.

“We’ll grasp, discover, and attain it all, the cold North Pole and the clear blue sky, When our country commands that we be heroes, then anyone can become a hero.”

This verse continues to persuade the next generation that they can do anything. This verse is promoting technological and scientific triumphs like going to the North pole, or making it into the sky.

It also promotes the idea that anybody can be a hero. In 1930s Soviet Russia, they were very big on the promotion of heroes. Heroes discovered things and contriubuted to society in a positive way. By saying that “our country commands that we be heroes, then anyone can be a hero.”, the writers are not only calling everybody to be heroes, but they are also implying the theme of selflessness for one’s country and for the socialist culture. This is very important because it is promoting the support of Russia’s government.

“We can sing and laugh like children, amid our constant struggle and toil, But that’s how we were born into the world, nowhere and never to relent!”

This verse admits that there is still constant struggle and toil present in the culture, but by continuing to laugh and sing, they will never relent. This verse continues to express the themes of selflessness and sacrifice for the socialist culture. They can push through the struggle and the toil of life by singing and they will never give up. Also, by comparing their joy to that of children, the writer is saying that even amoungst the hard times in life, they can still live care-free and naively like children.

“If our enemy decides to start a battle to take our living joy away from us, then we’ll strike up our song of battle and leap to defend our motherland.”

This verse ties together the themes of joy, nationalism, and sacrifice.  It expresses that the joy that they have is from the government/ their nation and it calls everybody to make the ultimate sacrifice for one’s country if an enemy were to attack. This verse is so important, because it’s implying that all of this joy from singing, child-like happiness, and the hope for an even more developed future all comes from the socialist regime. All of this is worth fighting for.

Sources:

Lebedev-Kumach, Vasily and Isaac Dunaevsky. “March of the Happy-Go-Lucky Guys.” Mass Culture in Soviet Russia. pg. 334-335. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1995.

7 thoughts on “The Happy-Go-Lucky Era

  1. Ethan G Tourtellotte says:

    Interesting take on music in 1930s Russia, based on everything we have been learning/discussing it appears that no aspect of culture does not intersect state-sponsored dogma and nationalism. I would be curious to explore music from the time period that does not include the previously mentioned traits, and compare them.

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    • aaucoin23 says:

      I agree with you. I think it would be really interesting to compare the music. I also think it would be intersting to compare music from this same period, but from western cultures, like the swing type music from the United States. Was music elsewhere full of similar propaganda as it was in Russia during the 1930s?

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  2. A. Nelson says:

    I really like the way you examine the lyrics of the song — your discussion suggests how much is behind lyrics that seem very straightforward and uncomplicated on the surface. So, why do you think this song and its namesake film were so popular? What made people flock to watch movies like this and hum these songs as they went through the day?

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    • aaucoin23 says:

      I think this song was so popular for multiple reasons. One, because it was a catchy tune that anybody could hum along to. It’s definitely the kind of tune that could get stuck into one’s head. I think another reason as to why it was so popular was because the song and the film promoted the idea of a better, more joyful life. Also, by this time, Stalin was already beginning to control the media, so the people of the time probably only had access to songs and films like these, which promoted the socialist regime.

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  3. cnritchey says:

    This was a really interesting approach to your blog, I like how you broke down the different verses! It’s interesting to see how there can be so much meaning behind verses that sound somewhat mundane to us, and how they could have such a deeper meaning for the people at the time.

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    • aaucoin23 says:

      Yeah it is really cool how this song does that, but its not just this song. There are lyrics like this in all kinds of music. One can even look at a song from today’s time and see the propaganda behind the lyrics and the ideas that the musician is supporting.

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  4. clairetams728 says:

    I really enjoyed this post! Music always seems to be straightforward at first but you can listen to a song 10 times and each time find new meaning in the lyrics, I wonder if the people in the Soviet Union sang with this just as a catchy tune or if they analyzed the lyrics like you did and identified with them!

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