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Does "Rich Men North Of Richmond" Manifest the Radical Center?
Seeing Oliver Anthony's roots from The Clash to Johnny Cash to Leonard Cohen to Muse and the Steve Miller Band.
The good folks over at Decensored News brought to my attention a bit ago how Oliver Anthony’s hit “Rich Men North of Richmond” was potentially setting off something of a political wildfire and it took me a while to give it the listen it deserves.
I've been sellin' my soul, workin' all day / Overtime hours for bullshit pay / So I can sit out here and waste my life away / Drag back home and drown my troubles away.
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.
Livin' in the new world / With an old soul / These rich men north of Richmond / Lord knows they all just wanna have total control / Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do / And they don't think you know, but I know that you do / 'Cause your dollar ain't shit and it's taxed to no end / 'Cause of rich men north of Richmond.
I wish politicians would look out for miners / And not just minors on an island somewhere / Lord, we got folks in the street, ain't got nothin' to eat / And the obese milkin' welfare.
Well, God, if you're 5-foot-3 and you're 300 pounds / Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds / Young men are puttin' themselves six feet in the ground / 'Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin' them down.
It’s hard to pass judgement on someone knowing so little about them, and there’s some ambiguities in the song that give me a bit of pause, but the potential here is huge. A song rockets atop the charts, someone seemingly living incredibly modestly if not close to poverty becomes a virtual overnight folk hero. In his own words:
It's been difficult as I browse through the 50,000+ messages and emails I've received in the last week. The stories that have been shared paint a brutally honest picture. Suicide, addiction, unemployment, anxiety and depression, hopelessness and the list goes on.
I’m sitting in such a weird place in my life right now. I never wanted to be a full time musician, much less sit at the top of the iTunes charts. Draven from RadioWv and I filmed these tunes on my land with the hope that it may hit 300k views. I still don't quite believe what has went on since we uploaded that. It's just strange to me.
People in the music industry give me blank stares when I brush off 8 million dollar offers. I don't want 6 tour buses, 15 tractor trailers and a jet. I don't want to play stadium shows, I don't want to be in the spotlight. I wrote the music I wrote because I was suffering with mental health and depression. These songs have connected with millions of people on such a deep level because they're being sung by someone feeling the words in the very moment they were being sung. No editing, no agent, no bullshit. Just some idiot and his guitar. The style of music that we should have never gotten away from in the first place.
So that being said, I have never taken the time to tell you who I actually am. Here's a formal introduction:
My legal name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford. My grandfather was Oliver Anthony, and "Oliver Anthony Music" is a dedication not only to him, but 1930's Appalachia where he was born and raised. Dirt floors, seven kids, hard times. At this point, I'll gladly go by Oliver because everyone knows me as such. But my friends and family still call me Chris. You can decide for yourself, either is fine.
In 2010, I dropped out of high school at age 17. I have a GED from Spruce Pine, NC. I worked multiple plant jobs in Western NC, my last being at the paper mill in McDowell county. I worked 3rd shift, 6 days a week for $14.50 an hour in a living hell. In 2013, I had a bad fall at work and fractured my skull. It forced me to move back home to Virginia. Due to complications from the injury, it took me 6 months or so before I could work again.
From 2014 until just a few days ago, I've worked outside sales in the industrial manufacturing world. My job has taken me all over Virginia and into the Carolinas, getting to know tens of thousands of other blue collar workers on job sites and in factories. Ive spent all day, everyday, for the last 10 years hearing the same story. People are SO damn tired of being neglected, divided and manipulated.
In 2019, I paid $97,500 for the property and still owe about $60,000 on it. I am living in a 27' camper with a tarp on the roof that I got off of craigslist for $750.
There's nothing special about me. I'm not a good musician, I'm not a very good person. I've spent the last 5 years struggling with mental health and using alcohol to drown it. I am sad to see the world in the state it's in, with everyone fighting with each other. I have spent many nights feeling hopeless, that the greatest country on Earth is quickly fading away.
That being said, I HATE the way the Internet has divided all of us. The Internet is a parasite, that infects the minds of humans and has their way with them. Hours wasted, goals forgotten, loved ones sitting in houses with each other distracted all day by technology made by the hands of other poor souls in sweat shops in a foreign land.
When is enough, enough? When are we going to fight for what is right again? MILLIONS have died protecting the liberties we have. Freedom of speech is such a precious gift. Never in world history has the world had the freedom it currently does. Don't let them take it away from you.
Just like those once wandering in the desert, we have lost our way from God and have let false idols distract us and divide us. It's a damn shame.
As I say, I don’t know what’s in his heart, but he’s certainly hit a chord. And his public comments have been remarkably humanistic against sectarian media and other tools of the establishment — expressing a desire to “go to the woods” — returning to Nature.
He says “I sit pretty dead center down the aisle on politics and always have.” But that can’t be true in the conventional sense. “Dead center” in standard media usage would never make any such a reference to Jeffrey Epstein and would never talk derisively of the establishment. Rather, he may in effect be pointing to what I’ve called the “Radical Center”. Or perhaps we should say “Live Center”.
It’s what I argue VotePact can help manifest. There is a majority of the US public that knows it’s a con. The RNC. The DNC. The duopoly. The major media. Big Tech. The whole shebang. If there was a mechanism for them to affect change in a straightforward way, they would. They grasp for various political actors for real change, from Perot to Clinton to Obama to Sanders to Trump, but they’re all dead ends of one sort or another.
What’s peculiar with the Epstein reference is it’s not clear if he sees the nature of it. As Whitney Webb has argues in One Nation Under Blackmail — the underlying crime was blackmail in the services of larger goals. The minors were not the major target. They were the tool. The major targets were policies, almost certainly related to the interests of the CIA and Israel’s Mossad.
Parts of the song to me are reminiscent of a song from an altogether different genre, “Clampdown” from The Clash, a group which had a substantial impact on me as a teen.
…No man born with a living soul / Can be working for the clampdown
Kick over the wall 'cause government's to fall / How can you refuse it?
Let fury have the hour, anger can be power / Do you know that you can use it?
The voices in your head are calling / Stop wasting your time, there's nothing coming / Only a fool would think someone could save you / The men at the factory are old and cunning / You don't owe nothing, boy, get runnin' / It's the best years of your life they want to steal
But you grow up and you calm down / And working for the clampdown
You start wearing blue and brown / You're working for the clampdown
So you got someone to boss around / It make you feel big now
You drift until you brutalize / Make your first kill now
In these days of evil Presidentes / Working for the clampdown
But lately one or two has fully paid their due / For working for the clampdown…
There are obvious differences between the themes of the songs. The Clash attacks the factory. I don’t know if Anthony might long for there being more factories again in the US. This speaks to how dystopian our future may be. The old oppressive structures seem good in comparison.
This brings to mind Leonard Cohen’s “The Future” with its warning of a horrific tomorrow:
Give me back my broken night / My mirrored room, my secret life
It's lonely here / There's no one left to torture
Give me absolute control / Over every living soul …
Give me back the Berlin wall / Give me Stalin and St. Paul
I've seen the future, brother / It is murder …
His use of profanity and wariness of modernity brings to mind Steve Miller’s “Big Old Jet Airliner”. And the themes he hits on are recurring in popular music, as with Muse’s “Uprising” — based on Orwell’s 1984:
Another promise, another scene / Another packaged lie to keep us trapped in greed / And all the green belts wrapped around our minds / And endless red tape to keep the truth confined / (So come on)
They will not force us / They will stop degrading us / They will not control us / We will be victorious
What is unique perhaps about Anthony among people atop the charts is that he’s actually put out material that attacks the entire establishment directly. Referencing specifics. Being poetic without hiding behind poetry.
If Anthony can really maintain an antiestablishment posture and speak meaningfully about the vulnerability and glory of the human soul in a language that reaches millions, the good could be tremendous.
Johnny Cash tried to reach people with a similar Americana voice, his music did much and then he tried with a TV show, but despite efforts — as with “The Man in Black” where he thrilled the crowd of young people by addressing the Vietnam War — seemed generally constrained by the network bosses. And simply being on a big TV network and the forum used, seemed to undermine what he was saying as with his performance of “Sixteen Tons”.
It’s hard to have much faith in anything that gets a lot of eyeballs. It’s not crazy to think that anything genuinely threatening at this point wouldn’t be blackballed by Big Tech.
But, as Anthony alludes, abstaining from big contracts could be key. Malcolm Shabazz in his speech “The Prospects for Freedom in 1965,” at the Militant Labor Forum in New York City said: “It’s easy to become a satellite today without even realizing it. This country can seduce God. Yes, it has that seductive power of economic dollarism. … When they drop those dollars on you, you’ll fold though.”
It may be hard for someone like Anthony to keep his integrity. And I have no idea if he has problematic notions, or just hasn’t thought through things regarding racism, imperialism, sexism or much else.
It’s not primarily about him. He’s a sign of the incredible frailty of the system and the potential for a clear voice to expose the machinations of the establishment. And, most of all, it’s about the intrinsic nature of the human heart that longs for that.
My friend Tim Shorrock writes me: “Johnny Cash and The Clash never made fun of and ridiculed people on welfare ... I do not see the humanity in this guy. He's a creature of the white far-right and was boosted by the worst of Trump culture. As a musician and someone who's been listening to popular and traditional music since I was 12 or so, I don't see the charm or the hope in him. He'll fade.”
Tim could completely be right. But Antony also sings: “Young men are puttin' themselves six feet in the ground / 'Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin' them down.” I think he’s arguing that people become addicted to sweets (or a thousand other things from porn to opioids) because of the structure of society. Which Gabor Mate says over and over.
I see now that Billy Bragg put out a response song that nearly put me to sleep, “Rich Men Earning North of a Million”. Bragg was a big influence on me when “Worker’s Playtime” came out, but I stopped taking him seriously when he so fervently drank the Obama Koolaid. I saw him in DC just around Obama coming into office and he said something like how “electing a black man” would somehow magically erase the Bush years. Here again, he seems oblivious to how he’s effectively an appendage to the DNC. The reason that Anthony’s song took off is that it seems to not be an appendage of any political faction.