The Near Future
The origins of the song and its components are somewhat obscure, as are the factors that differentiate "The Near Future" from "How Dry I Am."
The origin of the melody predates Berlin's song and is based on an older hymn or spiritual. The most likely candidate is Oh Happy Day, the earliest known printing of which is in The Wesleyan Sacred Harp from Boston in 1855 (although the words to Oh Happy Day can be traced even further back to 1755). This meolody is in turn attributed to English composer Edward F. Rimbault.
The notes' positions in the major scale are 5 < 1 < 2 < 3 as numbered diatonically and 8 < 1 < 3 < 5 as numbered chromatically (e.g., G < C < D < E in C major, C < F < G < A in F major, and D < G < A < B in G major). Play (help·info)
The transition of the melody from a hymn to a song associated with drinking caused some confusion. In one example from 1931, a Minneapolis church playing "Oh Happy Day" was thought by angry parishioners to be playing "How Dry I Am."
The term "Dry" in the lyrics means abstinence from alcohol. While the lyrics are often associated with Prohibition in America, the lyrics were written before 1920.
An early precursor to the lyrics were published in an 1874 edition of Gem of the West and Soldiers' Friend, a journal of curious miscellany. The passage describes a "sleeping car adventure" in which "one lady exclaimed in a slow and solemn voice, 'Oh, how dry I am" several times until someone brings her some water, after which "came the same solemn tones, 'Oh, how dry I was," much to the annoyance of the rest of the passengers on the train.
The phrase "how dry I am" had become structured into song and referred specifically to drinking alcohol by at least 1898, as one journal describes a college drinking song that goes:
How dry I am, How dry I am!
God only knows How dry I am.
A 1919 book entitled Out and about: A Note-book of London in War-time describes a group of Americans drinking in London and singing "some excellent numbers of American marching-songs," including one described as "the anthem of the 'dry' States" whose lyrics were:
Nobody knows how dry I am, How dry I am, How dry I am.
You don't know how dry I am, How dry I am, How dry I am.
Nobody knows how dry I am, And nobody cares a damn.
The 1921 musical comedy Up In The Clouds included a similar song entitled "How Dry I Am" with music by Tom A. Johnstone and words by Will B. Johnstone.
“How Dry I Am” (also widely heard in the variant form, "How Dry Am I") has come to represent a four-pitch sequence widely used to begin both popular and classical works.
Other songs influenced by the melody include Will B. Johnstone and Benny Bell. There is an old Greek song called Bufetzis (Μπουφετζής) written by Yiorgos Batis made with the music of "How Dry I Am". Composer, television producer, and humorist Allan Sherman included in his concert album Peter and the Commissar a quodlibet titled "Variations On 'How Dry I Am'" and quoting works ranging from "Home on the Range" to "The Flying Trapeze" to the final section of the William Tell overture and the Russian military theme from Tchaikovsky's The Year 1812.
Use in popular culture
This portion of the song...
How dry I am, how dry I am
It's plain to see just why I am
No alcohol in my highball
And that is why so dry I am
...became known for its ironic use as a drinking song in all manner of popular media, especially Warner Bros. cartoons in which that behavior became a stock substitute for the explicit mention of alcohol and/or drunkenness. That use necessitated removal of the phrases that overtly mentioned drinking, leading to the song's frequently being condensed to these two lines:
How dry I am, how dry I am
Nobody knows how dry I am... Hooow dryyy I aaaaaam!
- Fuld, James (2000). The Book of World-famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk. Courier Corporation. p. 279.
- "Religion: O Happy Day". Time. April 13, 1931.
- "Sleeping Car Adventure". Gem of the West and Soldiers Friend 8: 74. 1874.
- Anonymous (1898). "Editorial Department". The Free Thought Magazine 16: 172.
- Burke, Thomas (1919). Out and about: A Note-book of London in War-time. London: G. Allen & Unwin Limited. p. 136.
- Archive of Popular American Music - How Dry I Am
- Judaica Sound Archives - The Hilarious Musical Comedy of Benny Bell, Volume 7
- "New 1953 Westinghouse Clothes Dryer" (advertisement), Life (17 November 1952), 62.