Rich Men North Of Richmond vs Try That In A Small Town

Two summer anthems of disaffection with decay in the U.S. could not be more different. Yes, they’re both in the country genre and feature male leads but one is a pro-policing screed that couldn’t be slicker, and the other is as genuine as it gets.

Viral hit “Try That In A Small Town” from Jason Aldean’s 11th album was written by a team not including Aldean, recorded in a studio, and then embellished with one of the more incoherent music videos I’ve seen. Granted I don’t see that many music videos, but my impression of this one was that the lead singer is mailing it in while the montage of images behind him — flag-draped White House, looting, assault — do the heavy lifting. Basically a 2nd Amendment commercial laced with the kind of threats you may remember from your elementary school playground.

The artist denies it, but dog whistle racist imagery abounds. It’s possible this song could be construed as a campaign ad for Trump since the disorder depicted is widely viewed by Republicans as occurring under the Biden administration and Democratic mayors of big cities.

(For an insightful discussion of disorder and other electoral issues, I highly recommend Matt Taibbi and Walter Kirn’s “America This Week: Campaign Preview” available here.)

Newer viral hit “Rich Men North Of Richmond” is performed by singer/songwriter Oliver Anthony in a lightly amplified outdoor setting. He nails the aggrieved white working class male lament in a way that the wealthy Aldean’s performance only mimics. 

Or maybe it’s not even a particularly white point of view? Rapper TRE TV nodded along in sympathy before sharing his reaction to Anthony’s intro, I been selling my soul, working all day, overtime hours for bullshit pay:

That’s how we all feel. We working, ain’t getting nowhere, the money ain’t adding up. You get your check and you’re like, What. Is. This?…Hell, this thing missing a couple of zeros!

I thought the vocals were tough.. and the message. I give this a 10. 

Anthony also takes a potshot at riders on Epstein’s “Lolita Express,” excess taxation, and references the suicide epidemic among young men suffering under top down control from the rich men north of Richmond. An interview with the singer revealed he was specifically thinking of Washington DC swamp monsters when he penned the alliterative line (he appears to like puns, rhyming, and alliteration).

He goes off the rails only once when he engages in fat shaming aimed at food stamp recipients. Hard to know for sure, but maybe he has an ex-girlfriend who’s 5 foot 3, weighs 300 pounds, and is partial to fudge roll?

It cracks me up how conservatives are trying to claim Oliver Anthony for their own. Did they listen to his words? Cue the mainstream media, now in overdrive claiming the song is a big hit with the right but leaving leftists cold. Wealthy media are having to spin extra hard to depict the ballad as a rallying cry for Civil War 2.0. You know, the war the wealthy hope we have instead of the revolution we need.

The problem with their analysis, of course, is that right and especially left have become so diluted in meaning that the terms are increasingly useless. Anthony has shared with journalists that he considers himself a centrist with no allegiance to either of the corporate parties.

Chris Hedges writes searingly about this from time to time. His latest is set in rural Maine aka northern Appalachia where I live and which, this time of year, looks nearly identical to the West Virginia setting of Anthony’s video. “Forgotten Victims of America’s Class War” lays out about as well as anything I’ve read how left vs. right or red vs. blue are increasingly meaningless in a gutted economy that’s failing working people.