American songwriting, whether folk, rock, or country, has a long tradition of publishing lyrics and music about the things that inspire the writers.
In 1970, after a singer had only been on stage for a few months, Chicago Sun Times The film critic Roger Ebert came across him completely by chance.
And the experience left him speechless.
Years later, Ebert recalled in a column: “Without my wisdom but by sheer luck, one evening in 1970, I walked into the Fifth Peg, a folk club in West Armitage, and heard a postman from Westchester singing.”
That mailman was the late, quirky and extremely talented John Prine, who performed his own songs that evening and later became a gravelly-voiced country-folk legend. Prine’s brilliant lyrics reflected experiences that ranged from tender and touching to humorous and angry.
“Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mind travel to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs,” Bob Dylan wrote about Prine, listing his favorite songwriters.
And 50 years ago, the lyrics and music of a still relatively unknown Bruce Springsteen were praised as “presenting an enigma” through “his sharp lyrics, full of alienation and complex images.” Philadelphia Daily News Reporter Jonathan Takiff after seeing him perform at Main Point in Pennsylvania.
Neither review for either man mentioned politics; It was about the music, the connection the lyrics made with the people in the room, and how enthusiastically the audience responded in turn.
It was a different time. It was probably a better time.
A few weeks ago, Oliver Anthony, another young musician with complex life experiences, talent and a story to tell, burst onto the music scene with his ballad Rich men north of Richmond.
It was a story – because these are good songs, good storytelling – that touched a lot of people for very different reasons. For some it was the pain, for others it was the feeling of being let down by those in power, but for most it was the daily struggles of making ends meet and never finding a way to get to the top.
“I sold my soul and worked all day
Overtime for cops – paid
So I can sit out here and waste my life
Move back home and drown out my worries
It’s a damn shame what the world has come to
For people like me and people like you
I wish I could just wake up and it wouldn’t be true
But it is, oh, it is.”
It was also included in his disembowelment shipment.
The ballad spread like wildfire – and like clockwork and like the parasite that politics is, the political world tried to cooperate with him and his song. The right started saying he was one of them, and of course the left and the media said he was one of them and then called it racist.
If you were a person who experienced the pain that Anthony wrote about Rich men north of Richmond, you knew immediately that it was never about right or left: people like Anthony and the thousands of people I’ve listened to and written about over the course of my career don’t think that way. They never did that. They do not view the world through a left/right prism. Instead, it is often viewed from the outside looking in.
That’s what Anthony’s song is about: The cultural curators who hold all the power in the six wealthiest zip codes around Washington, DC, don’t actually know anyone like you, nor do they understand the life you lead.
Anthony, in his own way, let her know it clearly. Then last Friday, he released a video addressing the political firestorm he had ignited. Anthony sat in his truck in the rain and said in no uncertain terms that he did not agree with either side and that both sides would use his song as either a political anthem or a weapon for their team.
Dane Strother, a Democratic media consultant who works in both Washington, D.C. and California, said the far right was too quick to claim the song but the far left was too quick to condemn it. But more importantly, understanding the human condition and people as a whole, neither party should have tried to make it a political sideshow, he said.
Strother said Anthony’s willingness to speak out and not let anyone define the song took courage: “That’s what we’re missing in this country, someone who’s willing to speak in anger about both sides when necessary.” .” I applaud this guy for coming forward and saying, “You’re totally wrong.” That took some courage.”
Strother said he may not personally agree with all of Anthony’s lyrics, but “what I do know is that he speaks for a lot of people.”
Strother explains that back then, folk singers like Prine didn’t have MSNBC and Fox or silos on the internet where we fed each other our beliefs.
“And thank God no one had to say what their politics were, because often they were apolitical, they just felt something and wrote and sang about it.”
Paul Sracic, a political science professor at Youngstown State University and an expert on American populism, also wasn’t surprised that Anthony wasn’t a member of either party.
“We give people such templates,” said Sracic. “He has the Southern accent, so we’re like, oh, Southern conservative. But the reality is that most people don’t spend their lives in politics. That’s not their lifeblood.”
Most people also aren’t “very online” and live their lives on social media, “they’re just trying to live their best life.” And they don’t believe the United States is on the right track. They don’t see that things are going the way they should,” he said.
All you have to do is listen to Anthony’s lyrics to understand this; It’s pretty scattered and scattered, as most people think when they try to describe both political parties.
Sracic said the song is, at its core, about division: “It’s about the two Americas, whether John Edwards is talking about it or JD Vance is talking about it, and it’s not political,” he explained.
Sracic said as Vance spoke about the people in his book Hillbilly Elegythey weren’t necessarily Republicans.
“They saw that something was wrong and they weren’t political at all,” he said. “They were not bound by it. So we want to impose our template on everyone, but in my opinion this template doesn’t really fit. People are just trying to figure out how to fix the problem. And they scream that something is wrong.”
And that’s it Rich men north of Richmond that was what it was about.
-Salena Zito is a political analyst at CNN and a reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner.
https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/zito-the-poignancy-and-power-of-oliver-anthonys-ballad-was-never-political ZITO: The urgency of Oliver Anthony’s ballad was never political