If you’ll forgive the reference to the Elvis Costello classic of yesteryear, “Oliver’s Army” has grown up out of the hustings, and our elites simply refuse to reckon with it.
The same thing keeps manifesting again and again in America, and the people in charge of our cultural, political, and economic institutions keep responding the same way. This has been true since Ronald Reagan’s rise as a populist conservative in the late 1970s, but the familiar pattern of the coastal elite/Deep State/status-quo crowd waiting out and disparaging the populists and then rolling back their changes is just as apparent.
It was Reagan. Then it was Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. Then it was the Tea Party. Then it was Donald Trump. In politics we see it again and again — it’s the disaffected middle class, put upon by cultural forces attacking traditions and lifestyles, under pressure by economic conditions wholly caused by stupid policies and taking fire from a political class whose antipathy is clear, doing what it can to throw the bums out. But the bums keep coming back.
And as Andrew Breitbart said, “Politics is downstream from culture.” But politics went out and bought a boat with a hell of a strong engine, and now it can motor its way all the way up the stream.
Our culture isn’t just toxic. It’s septic. It’s utterly politicized. And the record industry might be its worst manifestation.
Everybody knows this. Everybody saw the Grammys, the awards show where that industry celebrates itself with a level of hubris even the film industry can’t match, this year. They saw the horrifically offensive, satanic performance of “Unholy” by Sam Smith and Kim Petras and recognized that this slime is what that industry offers to our kids.
And they saw the way the industry reacted when Jason Aldean put out “Try That In A Small Town.” (READ MORE: Bigotry in Motion: The Frenzied Woke Attacks on Jason Aldean)
The people who run that industry hate regular Americans in the same way our political elites hate us — our corporate elites, the people who simply cannot take no for an answer to their never-ending woke provocations. (Skittles, of all things, is now the new Bud Light.)
So along comes Oliver Anthony, an off-the-grid farmer from the sticks of Virginia who only started as a musician a couple of years ago and, until very recently, had just a few hundred followers on his YouTube page. Anthony released a fiery protest song about, in his words, “Rich Men North of Richmond”:
I’ve been selling my soul, working all day
Overtime hours for bullsh*t pay
I wish politicians would look out for miners
and not just minors on an island somewhere
This might be the first song that makes a reference to the Jeffrey Epstein/child-sex-trafficking bugaboo that the music industry has been so prominently adjacent to. And it hammers fat slobs on welfare:
Lord, we got folks in the street, ain’t got nothing to eat
And the obese milking 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
We’re noticing that protest songs — and particularly protest songs coming from independent artists who aren’t affiliated with the corporate record industry, like the Tom MacDonalds and Bryson Grays, for example – are beginning to take over the music business.
That’s a good thing — because pop music is a wasteland, and the record industry as it currently stands deserves to be disrupted and crushed.
So when a former factory worker and off-the-grid farmer goes and buys a top-grade microphone and a resonator guitar and belts out a protest song for the ages for his YouTube followers, and the record industry has no part to play in his near-immediate viral success, it tells you that the little guy isn’t done fighting.
Oliver Anthony had, earlier this week, four of the 10 most downloaded tracks on iTunes. “Rich Men North of Richmond” led the way.
Matt Walsh summed up the sentiment of the audience well:
All of the recent songs that have topped the charts and gotten people talking are songs that connect with an audience that despises modern music. Oliver Anthony sings that he’s an old soul living in a new world. And those of us who relate to that lyric are made to feel this way in large part because of the sort of “art” that the entertainment industry vomits out— profane rap songs and soulless pop songs. We see and listen to this stuff and our souls are crushed just a little more each time. It grieves us to be surrounded by such ugliness and stupidity, and to think that so many people are just marinating in this filth without realizing what it’s doing to them. There are many of us who feel that way. So many, that we made a literal overnight superstar out of one simple, authentic guy strumming his guitar in the woods.
So the question is: given that this huge market exists, and that it is hungry for this kind of content, why won’t the entertainment industry serve it? Even if it is just for the sake of capitalism, why don’t they produce songs like “Rich Men North Of Richmond?” The answer is exactly what we’ve already established — they hate normal people who read their Bibles, and have “traditional values,” and care about things like hard work and honesty. They want us all to become lazy, helpless, degenerate parasites. They want to create a population of stupid, weird, hollow people. They’ll even forgo profit to make that happen. That’s how deeply they hate normalcy. That’s how badly they want to destroy it.
Which is fine with us — if they don’t want our money, no problem. We’ll give it to guys like Oliver Anthony instead.
That hatred — which we see manifested everywhere we go — is inspirational in the case of an Oliver Anthony. His art is authentic and raw; it comes from the place of love and regret for our communities and society that tens of millions of Americans know.
But it’s demoralizing in most cases, particularly for so many Americans who don’t have Anthony’s talent or the creative outlet that his independent musical success provides. They’re forgotten by an increasingly oligopolistic economy that exploits unlimited illegal immigration to depress their wages, a rigged politics that allows a corrupt in-crowd to openly flout the law while looting the federal treasury, and a corporate-driven culture that kicks them again and again with harangues and hostile messaging.
None of it can stand — the fakery, the “ersatz” everything, as Daniel Greenfield noted in a terrific column at FrontPage Magazine, the magical thinking and contempt.
And our elites hate “Rich Men North of Richmond.” They hate it. Rolling Stone derisively declared that “[r]ight-wing influencers are losing their minds” over the song, as though a runaway smash phenomenon like Anthony has produced could be fueled solely by “right-wing influencers.” And even in conservative elite circles, the song isn’t very popular; National Review’s Mark Antonio Wright showed just how utterly out of touch he and that publication is by writing this:
In just the time that you may have been on summer vacation, [Anthony] came out of nowhere, going from a complete unknown to a musical celebrity as the song spread virally on YouTube and Twitter.
That’s a great American story, but I don’t understand the adulation on the right for this song’s message.
I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day
Overtime hours for bullsh*t pay
So I can sit out here and waste my life away
Drag back home and drown my troubles away
My brother in Christ, you live in the United States of America in 2023 — if you’re a fit, able-bodied man, and you’re working “overtime hours for bullsh*t pay,” you need to find a new job.
There’s plenty of them out there — jobs that don’t require a college degree, that offer good pay (especially in this tight labor market) and great benefits, especially if you’re willing to get your hands dirty by doing things like joining the Navy, turning wrenches, fixing pumps, laying pipe, or a hundred other jobs through which American men can still make a great living. If you’re the type of guy who’s willing to show up on time, every time, work hard while you’re on the clock, and learn hard skills — there’s a good-paying job out there for you. Go find it.
And if you go home and spend all night drowning your troubles away — either on TikTok or by drinking too much — my friend, that’s your fault, not Washington’s. Not that Washington is helping any — it’s not. But when we waste our lives, it’s still our own fault.
It’s the same abysmally tone-deaf lecturing with which Kevin Williamson regaled the citizens of Garbutt, New York, and other towns like it all those years ago when the populist conservative movement resurged under Trump’s banner. The corporate-captured checkbook conservative crowd has lost the public — it never really had them, if we’re being honest — and can no more handle the fallout than can our dying cultural elites.
This fight isn’t over. Hell, it’s barely begun. But Anthony, who says politically he’s down the middle because he doesn’t have much use for either side (and Wright’s snooty “learn to code” screed sure doesn’t do anything to help that situation for the Right), will likely be heard from again as a voice for that old soul, forgotten America so despised by the cool kids north of Richmond.