There’s no freedom left in spеaking your mind
If you want a career to get by
Tricky business being a troubadour
Now we’re living through 1984
Alarmed by scandals, indecency, and the sexual freedom of the Jazz Age threatening the moral fibres (and pocketbooks) of America, the head honchos of Hollywood (and a team of Puritanical wet blankets) enforced The Hays Code, a set of highly restrictive industry guidelines for films made between 1934-1968. The strict enforcement of The Hays Code and the tightening public relations noose on actors in the Hollywood studio system dictated and transformed public discourse for decades; its ripple effects affected everything from race relations, to LGBTQ acknowledgement, to gender roles in the United States and beyond. With such intense censorship controlling the mass media, the freewheeling, laissez-faire culture of the 1910s-20s – and the nitrate fires destroying 90% of pre-Code films – erased not only a significant part of progressive history, but it also stifled the very language we expressed.
New Zealand new wave crooner Jonathan Bree (The Brunettes) addresses the concurrent generational gap in language with an incredible new single called “Pre-Code Hollywood” from his fifth studio album of the same name, set to be released digitally on April 14th, followed by a vinyl release on May 12th, via Lil’ Chief Records. The song also features guitar work from the legendary Nile Rodgers (Chic, David Bowie).
The accompanying music video, directed by Bree himself, is a work of performance art. Performing in masks erasing their very identities, the song, which attacks a code enforced to control the morality of a populace, is especially subversive coming from a band playing on a fictional version of Top of the Pops. (Dick Driver, from the influential music video show Radio With Pictures, makes a cameo.)
The lyrics paint a dystopian picture of the 2020s Hays Code: a dogmatic policing of language, and censorship of free artistic expression in the name of progression. We are at a dangerous precipice, where we could potentially lose sight of where change does good, and where it becomes smothering and unforgiving. How will that affect us in years to come? We already have the road map.
Watch “Pre-Code Hollywood” below:
Pre-Code Hollywood is out April 14th via Lil’ Chief Records.
Follow Jonathan Bree: