New Orleans When Oliver Anthony (nee Christopher Anthony Lunsford) sings about the “rich men north of Richmond,” he’s talking about the people in Congress and all of those folks in Washington, D.C. and its suburbs. The news says that these same rich men did get it together in a roughhewn temporary coalition of almost all of the Democrats and most of the Republicans to keep the federal government’s doors open and prevent a calamitous shutdown imperiling the economy and our national credit. The vote was 336 to 95, hitting the needed supermajority to pass. It took 209 Democrats along with 127 Republicans to beat the assembled conservative caucus, which counted 93 Republicans and 2 Dems. It’s all temporary of course to get us past the holidays, where we can go Groundhog Day again on this problem. Speaker Mike Johnson from Louisiana weathered his first storm, but looking at the closeness of the vote in the Republican caucus of 127-93, he can do the simple math that a switch of 17 votes, and he’s out on his can like the quick exits that won him the gavel. These rich men north of Richmond have some work to do.
This song and Richmond have been on my mind in recent days. First, because of this shutdown mess. Secondly, because I’ve been talking to people up there about applying for a low power FM radio channel in Richmond, Petersburg, and other Virginia cities. And, lastly, because this song is now on regular rotation in the alternative country playlist I listen to in the mornings before my sweetheart is awake. It’s a cantankerous song. He takes a swipe at welfare recipients being fat and lazy, which is just stupid and drives me crazy because sitting in the Piedmont mountains of Virginia, he knows darn well that welfare pays spit, so this is just a racist trope that fits his rhyme.
That screed and others about taxes got him a big rightwing bump, but I’ve heard he claims to be straddling the political fence, which makes sense if he wants to make a living with these songs. But, in all honesty, if you can get past that, which I can’t, he’s got a point. When he sings,
I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day
Overtime hours for bullsh– pay
So I can sit out here and waste my life away
Drag back home and drown my troubles away
We all know that sounds right and is almost every workers’ lament. Later he adds this line,
Young men are puttin’ themselves six feet in the ground
‘Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin’ them down
And, there’s no denying that in the Piedmont, Appalachian, and Ozark mountains, and many more there are a lot of young men who went down the opioid rabbit hole.
The refrain is a weird bit of accountability and rage, as he sings over and over again,
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 sh– and it’s taxed to no end
‘Cause of rich men north of Richmond
Put it all together and shake it all around, and it’s a populist hodgepodge that both the right and the left can grab from different angles. Anthony’s got a hard luck, hard life backstory, and good for him that he’s an outsider voice that’s made bank on YouTube, so I give him some leeway. I don’t do the same for the politicians that are trying to make this their theme song, because they better listen to all the words, not just some of them, where they agree with this line or that. They are the “rich men north of Richmond,” and as Congress proves every day, they have a lot to answer for.