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Too Much Money Business

In the late twenties, early thirties, during the great depression, dustbowl oakies like Woody Guthrie were singing “if you aint got the do-re-me boys” and singing in the face of the abyss. Meanwhile the jazz and swing folk were following Berlin and Gershwin New York-Hollywood dream factory dance your problems away let’s face the music and starve escapism. If “Do Re Me” found starving mid-westerners turned back at the California border, “Pennies From Heaven” imagined a cavalcade of riches pouring into every coffer courtesy of FDR.

And WWII brought an end to the recession and post-WWII a baby boom and despite a recession here and there, even despite the Saudi’s oil embargo in the seventies, economics all occurred somewhere off screen and the middle class sat high on the hog with two cars in every garage and an eight track in every car.

Not now. Point the finger at Fannie or point it at the fat cats or point it at a capitalist system but the fact remains a country can withstand nearly anything EXCEPT a middle class in serious trouble. And with 10% unemployment and rising, taxes on the rise, people in debt and an air of, as the Citizen’s Brigade recently put it, the Debt Rattle. When the world bank holds more money in Euros than in the US Dollar that sound you hear in the back of your head is not Guthrie or Seeger or even Dylan or Baez, it is Adam Lambert.

There is no music to deal with American’s going bankrupt except maybe Springsteen and even he seems too dour and misjudged: Working On A Dream isn’t remotely close to doing the job and all this E Street Band as hardworking blue collar rock stinks of bullshit. U2 is a joke. The Stones never gave a shit so at least they’re consistent. The hardcore DC boys have all broken up and modern hardcore isn’t up to the job. The problem is the old farts can’t be bothered and the young guys lack the imagination. The only thing left is Billy Bragg recommending we all join the communist party.

And anyway, rock is a yoouthful game and youth can’t concentrate on money, it is too busy concentrating on its libido.

In the UK in the 70s when Jimmy Callaghan had all but bankrupted the country, the first wave of punk was about having no money. The kids were bored because they had no work and they were broke. Not so in the US -in NYC the first wave of punk were art school drop outs having an existential crises.

So American rock hasn’t seriously considered the question of money in decades.

Hip hop and funk have been known to circle the subject. I was recently listening to the Allen Toussaint song “Who’s Gonna Help A Brother get Further” and in that song (hidden by the addictive chorus: “was that the Liberty bell I heard so much about? Did it ding dong? It didn’t ding long”) was very real financial concerns. Or “Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent,” or “Money’s Too Tight To Mention”: funk deals with the form of finance. Even, maybe especially, hip hop, whether it is the child Kanye West crying in his Mommies arms and promising to take care of her or Biggie’s “Birthdays were the worse days”, money is front and center but not as an expression of daily strife but rather as something the hip hop star has risen above. Biggies follow up line was “Now we drink champagne when we’re thirsty”.

This all follows the blues in the 1800s -songs of protest that saw salvation in God would later find salvation in an escape from poverty. Because the black portion of the States was disproportionately poor, black music was disproportionately concerned with money,

Now, not so much. Jay-Z, with the chance of making the album about money we’ve all been waiting for, wiggled his dick in our faces one more time. The middle class, his audience, are hurting: if Jay-Z got his head out of his limo every once in awhile he might have a better feel for what was happening around him. But maybe it’s a younger man’s game nowadays, if there’s no Dead Prez to rattle the cage maybe there’s a Kid Cudi to subjectify the poverty.

There certainly isn’t reggae any more. I’ve been promising a post on the Wailer’s fourth album Burnin’ for awhile now and even the most perfunctory listening of the Wailer’s first decade finds song after song after song seeped in heart crushing poverty -families smashed apart in the such for financial security wandrin’ the mean street sof Kingstown and fermenting revolutions that never seem to happen. That aint what you’re gonna find in Reggeaton and it aint what Buju Banton or Beanie Man or any of the family Marley care about. It’s a dead subject matter.

It’s not that I believe that facing disaster through music is NECESSARY, I’m saying that whether we like it or not the line between Trey Songz singing about sexting or Chuck Berry singing “Too Much Monkey Business” is miniscule: Berry describes his job at a gas station “Workin in the fillin station – too many tasks. Wipe the windows – check the tires – check the oil – dollar gas” , Trey listening to the cry of the siren, “Shorty sent a twitpic saying coming and get this, lol smiliey face” it is the same detail of life being live. The difference is in direction -in what is being looked at.

The problem is there is no room to deal with middle aged, middle income reality. There is no songs for the new depression. Neither folk, nor hip, nor rock knows how to deal with middle class poverty. What can Springsteen do? Can he pretend he is sixty-five and unable to retire… EVER! How about MOF? Is there one song in all four artists entire repertoire about not making the rent? If we turn to “Boom Boom Pow” to help us hide, who do we turn to to help us cope. If except for a brief period and then only folk music could deal with the great depression can nothing deal with this endless bottom feeding and not reached the bottom new depression.

The transmogrifying quality of art is it takes reality and changes its form so we can understand it more deeply. If I am up all night worrying about a girl who has left me there is something in an other medium than the thoughts in my head to help me deal with it. If I am up all night worrying about the rent I’m fucked. “Career opportunities, the ones that never knock” Strummer once sang. Today there isn’t even any one to point it out.

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