SONGS ABOUT WORK HAVE LOST THEIR CACHET
If you type "working" into the search bar of a free photo site, 99.9% of the results will be a guy or gal sitting with their fingers poised above a laptop keyboard. Man! I'm sweaty already! Is it any wonder that the majority of today's populace has little use for working man songs? In fact, if one should dare to sing about the working man, the knives are out (not that these people know how to hold a knife). There was a time when a man getting his hands dirty was admired, was maybe even a bit intimidating. Now he is condescended to, called names, deemed uneducated.
In 1969 Merle Haggard sang about being a working man, not in a boastful way but as one simply resigned to it.
I keep my nose on the grindstone, work hard every day
Get a little tired on the weekend after I draw my pay
But I'll go back workin'
Come Monday mornin' I'm right back with the crew
By 1988 all the working man wanted was a job.
Need a job for these two hands
I'm a workin' man with nowhere to go
Can you imagine the ridicule that would befall these tracks if they were released today? "Ooh, poor working man feeling sorry for himself again. Hold on, I've gotta answer this text."
I'm not sure when manual labor became repugnant. I have some ideas - cable news personalities labeling these men hillbillies, toothless dullards, mindless dolts. Gen X all the way down to Gen Z status seekers who spend more time picking out their wardrobe than learning how to change a flat tire.
When I was sixteen my summer job was cleaning motel rooms. I hauled a heavy Kirby vacuum up and down stairs, stripped bed sheets, swished toilets -- in 52 rooms. It was a repugnant job -- people were pretty piggish when it wasn't their own home. I was astonished once when I found a couple of dollar bills left on a desk and I promptly turned the money in to the office, not realizing it was a tip. No one tipped! Then, once all the rooms were cleaned, I loaded the washer with soiled towels and spent a half hour folding each dried batch on a long table inside a stifling garage. I never once thought that anyone was looking down on me, although I'm sure some were. Lucky for me, those people didn't have social media to brandish as weapons against me, posting surreptitious photos they snapped of me in front of my rolling maid's cart as I sorted through the cans of Comet and Pledge, and adding their little sniggering commentary.
Which in a roundabout way brings me to Oliver Anthony. He burst out of nowhere -- really, singing a lament with simply a Gretsch Resonator acoustic guitar accompanying him. I don't consider it a country song; maybe folk. It's a deceptively simple song, like Merle Haggard's songs were deceptively simple. Try writing one.
It's a damn shame what the world's gotten to
For people like me and people like you
Wish I could just wake up and it not be true
But it is, oh it is
The song says all the things Merle said between the lines, and for that matter all the things The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band said between their lines, too. Maybe the character in the NGDB song knew the world looked down on him, and maybe Merle suspected it, but nobody dared be so blatant in their derision as they are now.
Trust me, all these gentlemen know how the professional class regards them. The fact that they don't give a damn is a testament to their dignity.
Cable news personalities are good at reading a teleprompter. I wonder if they know how to clean my toilet.