The late 1920s were an age of islands, real and metaphorical. They were an age when Americans by thousands and tens of thousands were scheming to take the next boat for the South Seas or the West Indies, or better still for Paris, from which they could scatter to Majorca, Corsica, Capri or the isles of Greece. Paris itself was a modern city that seemed islanded in the past, and there were island countries, like Mexico, where Americans could feel that they had escaped from everything that oppressed them in a business civilization. Or without leaving home they could build themselves private islands of art or philosophy; or else--and this was a frequent solution--they could create social islands in the shadow of the skyscrapers, groups of close friends among whom they could live as unconstrainedly as in a Polynesian valley, live without moral scruples or modern conveniences, live in the pure moment, live gaily on gin and love and two lamb chops broiled over a coal fire in the grate. That was part of the Greenwich Village idea, and soon it was being copied in Boston, San Francisco, everywhere.
Always, everywhere, there was jazz; everything that year was enveloped in the hard bright mist of it. There were black orchestras wailing in cafes and boites de nuit, radios carrying the music of the Savoy ballroom in London, new phonograph records from Harlem and Tin Pan Alley played over and over again, "Organ Grinder," "Empty Bed Blues," "Limehouse Blues," "Vagabond Lover," "Broadway Melody"--"After supper everybody went over to the party at the Chateau but I stayed and played Vagabond Lover on the graphophone and sat in front of the fire drinking and thinking of fire princesses and sorceresses until I got quite tight (second bottle of champagne) and danced and shouted and branded myself with burning coals from the fire (Fanatic) and at last fell asleep under the zebra skin in the corner by the cider barrel." In the morning there would be more jazz--"We play (taking turns at winding the graphophone) the Broadway Melody from before breakfast till after supper (over a hundred times in all)"; and when the records wore out there were new ones to take their places, new orchestras hot and sweet, jazz omnipresent and always carrying the same message of violent escape toward Mandalay, Michigan, Carolina in the morning, one's childhood, love, a new day. Everywhere was the atmosphere of a long debauch that had to end; the orchestras played too fast, the stakes were too high at the gambling tables, the players were so empty, so tired, secretly hoping to vanish together into sleep and . . . maybe wake on a very distant morning and hear nothing, whatever, no shouting or crooning, find all things changed.