into their own in the twenties—were brought into their own
by the time itself—is as thrilling as it is humbling. Louis
Armstrong. Faulkner. Hemingway. Dashiell Hammett. Bix
Beiderbecke. Erich von Stroheim and Greed, Al Jolson and
The Jazz Singer. Sophie Tucker, Laurel and Hardy, and Buster
Keaton. The emergence of southern singers capturing another,
fatalistic, freeswinging America in music that had been taking
shape for a generation before it began to appear on 78s in 1926
and took the form of art: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charlie Poole,
the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Dock Boggs, Tommy Johnson,
Frank Hutchison, Charley Patton, Son House, Clarence Ashley, the
Memphis Jug Band, the Reverend J. M. Gates. Bessie Smith. The
reinvention of photography by Berenice Abbott, Dorothea Lange,
Paul Strand, Clarence White, Margaret Bourke-White, Ansel Adams,
and Man Ray. The upheavals of the Logan County War in West
Virginia, the trial and executions of Sacco and Vanzetti in
Massachusetts and the Tom Mooney trial in Chicago. Berlin and
Gershwin, Houdini and Josephine Baker, Mickey Mouse and Frank
Lloyd Wright. James Weldon Johnson, Jean Toomer, Claude McKay,
Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes’s The
Weary Blues. Thomas Hart Benton and Georgia O’Keeffe. Edna St.
Vincent Millay, Anita Loos, Ethel Waters, and the 1923 Jordan
Playboy—not the car, not many saw that, but the ad, which
everybody saw, and which probably named Jordan Baker. Beneath
a drawing that communicates quickness more than anything else, with
a figure on a galloping horse just behind a flapper at the wheel of
a top-down roadster, there’s this text, in a literary typeface:
Somewhere west of Laramie there’s a broncho-busting, steer-roping
girl who knows what I’m talking about.
She can tell what a sassy pony, that’s a cross between
greased lightning and the place where it hits, can do with
eleven hundred pounds of steel and action when he’s going
high, wide and handsome.
The truth is—the Playboy was built for her.
Built for the lass whose face is brown with the sun when
the day is done of revel and romp and race.
She loves the cross of the wild and the tame.
There’s a savor of links about that car—of laughter and
lilt and light—a hint of old loves—and saddle and quirt. It’s
a brawny thing—yet a graceful thing for the sweep o’ the
Step into the Playboy when the hour grows dull with
things gone dead and stale.
Then start for the land of real living with the spirit of
the lass who rides, lean and rangy, into the red horizon of a
“An eagerness and a zest: they have elbow room here for their
racing; they can drive on as far as they like; they have an unknown
country to explore, a country that no one has ever heard of”—
Edmund Wilson might have thought he was writing prophecy in
1922 in his “Night Thoughts in Paris”; he was really writing copy for
the Jordan Playboy.
From Under the Red White and Blue: Patriotism, Disenchantment and the Stubborn Myth of the Great Gatsby, published at Yale University Press, April 28, 2020