Friday, May 16, 2008

My song of the spring: four years later, has anything changed?

I popped a CD into the Jeep's player over a week ago, a CD that my brother burned for me a couple years back. The last song is "We can't make it here" by James McMurtry.

(The video is an acoustic performance; check YouTube for some fan-made videos of the more rockin' study version.)

I've been listening to the song repeatedly. It's from 2004 and depicts a crumbling economy and the ongoing battle between big business (the "man," so to speak) and the working poor, set against the backdrop of a war nobody wants. Four years later, does this still sound familiar?

At one point in the song, McMurtry examines class separation, and calls out the business owners who have been outsourcing our economy:

I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They’ve never known want, they’ll never know need
Their shit don’t stink and their kids won’t bleed
Their kids won’t bleed in their damn little war
And we can’t make it here anymore

Will work for food, will die for oil
Will kill for power and to us the spoils
The billionaires get to pay less tax
The working poor get to fall through the cracks
So let ‘em eat jellybeans let ‘em eat cake
Let ‘em eat shit, whatever it takes
They can join the Air Force, or join the Corps
If they can’t make it here anymore

The song portrays a separitist mentality, but the fact is that we have an ever-widening class gap in this country.

It reminds me of the scene in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 (which I hated, by the way; it seemed too much like biased propaganda) where he asks senators and other "important" folk if they would send their children to fight overseas.

McMurtry has little use for metaphor, and instead whacks you over the head with bluntness. But I like bluntness. It's easier to "get." I'm a busy man; I don't have time to search for meaning.

The song rouses something in me, and I'm not sure why.

Growing up on a farm, economic hardship was just a poor season away. But weather is something beyond man's control. When things failed, there was rarely someone specific to blame.

In McMurtry's world, and in places such as Moore's beloved Flint, MI, economic hardships are the result of decisions by people at the top of a hierarchical structure, a structure which implies some culpability for those at the top for the struggles of those at the bottom.

The sad thing is that our country has the resources to provide for all of its people. But somehow we manage to fall short.

Maybe our government is failing the lower to lower-middle classes, but I suppose it is doing something. We got our stimulus checks. That will make everything okay! Or at least shut me up for a while.


This morning I woke up to the alarm clock going off and found myself talking out loud. "You're so very confused!" I practically shouted as I sat upright. I looked around, saw that I was in the bedroom, and realized that I was now the confused one. I have no idea what I was dreaming about.

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