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Mitch’s Monthly Mix: Summer Wages

As with all Monthly Mixes, make good use of the “read more” button after the introductory essay. We make every attempt to find a video or streaming link for all the songs in the Monthly Mix, but for those we cannot find, Amazon links are provided. Thanks for playing along!

Mitch’s Monthly Mix: Summer Wages
Blendt by Mitch Ritter
Lay-Low Studios, Or-Wa

Early autumn chill and ever-shortening daylight may be crowding out memories of what was for most North Americans an alternately scorching and parched summer or an electrically charged bug thick humid hung cycle of unpredictable river flows compounded by a hurricane season farther flung from reason than a Jimmy Buffett song. Jobs for school-freed kids were scarce, and for long-unemployed adults scarcer still. Banks and businesses sat on their assets with little to no capital investment, and ideas to reanimate the world’s leading economy were still constrained by the array of ideologies that brought about the deadening “market correction,” even as the failed ideologues either got promoted to positions of greater authority or like the eleven-month CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Leo Apotheker, were pushed out at cruising altitude with a golden parachute worth upwards of $23 million for lowering the company’s productivity and value.

Yet and still, the experience of a sunlit riverine land where “the catfish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high” tends to be personally filtered through each of our own idiosyncratic if partially associated, partially recalled, and dreamtime amalgamated interior lives. The night shade breeze rippling across our exposed skin and follicles (or the sleepless and airless stillness of a southwestern night) crosses our signals. Back to our emergence from the 1950s post-WWII cocoon through the early 1960s awakening when Calgary cowboy songwriter Ian Tyson penned “Summer Wages” up through some post-modern jangling rock journals of her formative years blurring into urbane Middlescense on a set of songs by the esteemed journal-keeper of the Diary of A Mod Housewife, Amy Rigby, including her “Summer of My Wasted Youth,” a tune surely waiting to be rediscovered by a new Nashville diva.

Regardless of our station in life, the audacity of hope’s pulse on the ground is kept in the ever-present real-time of American improvisation by the former Charlie Parker band-leader and Kansas City barnstormer Jay McShann’s Big Apple Bash band. Oh say, can you see and hear the skipper seamlessly integrating New World navigators of horn like Gerry Mulligan alongside the moody airs and reed of Herbie Mann loping over the dotted electric guitar lines of John Scofield while bumped funkily along by the rhythm team of Jack Six and Joe Morello with the balmy congas of Sammy Figueroa on Atlantic’s shamefully Disco derided 1972 session “Crazy Legs and Friday Strut,” as bravely ventured by the tasteful young Turk producer Ilhan Mimaroglu.

Pour a lemonade or iced tea, push the recline button down, and go with the flow through these 17 tracks clocking in at just under 80 minutes—if you can find the fan club cassette-issued demo of Allen Toussaint’s prescient 1990s “Who’s Minding the Store?” Or just over 80 minutes if you choose the full New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest horn charted version led by Toussaint’s young saxophone protégé Amadee Castenell as recorded live in 2007 with even greater urgency onstage in the Big Tent. Whatever you do, don’t get caught napping by the time Vashon Island bard Danny O’Keefe’s Seattle band nails the Dixieland groove on “The Jimmy Hoffa Memorial Building Blues,” cuz if you snooze you may wind up offshore in cement shoes or holding down the rug in an end zone of Giants Stadium. And what would that say about the state of our union?

1. “Summer Wages” (Ian Tyson) Bobby Bare Band, Down & Dirty (Raven Reissue, Australia, originally Columbia 1980)

Outlaw Country crooner Bobby Bare barely left the roadhouses to record two rock band records for Columbia, adding a much-needed counterweight to Ronald Reagan’s central casting version of Morning In America campaign of the early 1980s. Bare’s gonzo repertoire on these two soon-to-be-taboo LPs were drawn from the likes of country music’s smart set, Bob McDill and the Freaker’s Ball doppelganger of best-selling children’s author Shel Silverstein. The choice track, however, may be a reclaimed number that didn’t make it onto vinyl but is now available on the Australian CD release. Calgary cowboy troubadour Ian Tyson, a folk club contemporary of young Bobby Dylan in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s and recording with his wife under the soon-to-be well-known marquee names of Ian & Sylvia penned this intimate wage slave bachelor-drifter’s classic that has never been better delivered than here by the bourbon toned Bare.

However, I couldn’t locate any video clips of Bare from these early 80’s sessions, so by way of temperamental contrast here’s Ian Tyson singing with ex-wife and duet partner Sylvia joined by the ubiquitous songwriter’s guide Emmylou Harris and the great Albert Lee on lead guitar. “A BC song for the BC folks here tonight.”

Never hit seventeen when you play against the dealer
For you know the odds won’t ride with you
Never leave your woman alone when your friend’s around to steal her
Years I’ve gambled and lost like summer wages.

And we’ll keep rolling on till we get to Vancouver
And the woman that I love is living there
It’s been six long months and more since I’ve seen her
May be gambled and gone like summer wages.

In all of the beer bars all down along Main Street
The dreams of the seasons get all spilled down on the floor
All the big stands of timber just waitin’ for a’falling
And the hookers waitin’ watchfully as they sit there by the door.

So, I’ll work on the towboats with my slippery city shoes on
Which I swore I would never do again
Through the gray fog-bound straits where the cedars stand a waitin’
I’ll be far off and gone like summer wages.

Years I’ve gambled and lost like summer wages…

2. “Song of the South” (Bob McDill) Bobby Bare Band, Drunk & Crazy (Raven Reissue, Australia, originally Columbia 1982)

Beware country music chart-topper Alabama’s edited version of this stark classic. Again, Bobby Bare’s is the definitive take on some fairly recent American history (pre-Nixon’s Southern Dixie-crat Strategy as devised by his campaign manager Kevin Phillips). One wonders about the Tea Party and Libertarian’s re-writing of history and the southern working class ethos captured so succinctly here in Daddy’s words as reflected upon by a dutiful son recalling the Great Depression.

Cotton on the roadside, cotton in the ditch.
We all picked the cotton, but we never got rich.
Daddy was a veteran, a Southern Democrat.
Said they oughta kill a rich man, to vote like that.

Sing a song, song of the south
Sweet potato pie and shut my mouth.
Gone, gone with the wind.
Ain’t nobody looking back again.

Well, I was eighteen ’fore I ate my fill.
We relied on the garden and the cow’s good will.
Winter was wet and the summer was dry.
And mama she was old at thirty-five.

Somebody told us Wall Street fell.
So damn poor we couldn’t even tell.
Cotton was short and the weeds were tall.
Mr. Roosevelt’s gonna save us all.


Mama got sick and daddy got down.
County got the farm and they moved to town.
Daddy took a job with the TVA.
We bought a washin’ machine and a Chevrolet.


3. “Summer of My Wasted Youth” Amy Rigby, Middlescence (Koch, 1998)

Summertime in ’83
The year that we made history
But didn’t have the energy
To tell a soul ‘cept you and you and me
Selling off Fiesta plates
Ate loaves of bread but gained no weight
From pecan waffles on the roof
The summer of my wasted youth

Summertime in ’83
The last time I took LSD
But listening to Patsy Cline
And Skeeter Davis really blew my mind
Played the boombox in the courtyard
Never used a credit card
Still took a trip by Greyhound bus
The summer I believed in us

Pushed plaster cows down city streets
Wore thrift store skirts with little pleats
Smoked pot and sat around all day
Bought a guitar but didn’t try to play

Summertime in ’83
I didn’t need a j-o-b
Cause unemployment kept me free
To study country harmony
And find somebody with a car
Drink cheap beer in the Polish bar
Take photos in the photo booth
The summer of my wasted youth

4. “Raising The Bar” Amy Rigby, Middlescence (Koch, 1998)

I’m running a little faster
One step from disaster
I’m trying, they’re all watching me sweat
I’m living on no money
I’m laughing, it’s not funny
I’m wondering what am I gonna get?

They keep raising the bar
They keep making it harder
I’m stuck in the tar
They keep raising the bar
Raising the bar

I’m boozing, I’m psychotic
I’m losing, I’m no hot chick
I’m hoping I’ll wake up and not care
I’m lying to myself here
I’m crying in my wheat beer
I’m dreaming I can make it somewhere

They keep raising the bar
They keep making it harder
There’s no gas in the car
They keep raising the bar

Help me someone, help me someone
Feel like no one, feel like no one

I’m working a lot harder
I’m learning, I’m more smarter
I’m cursing, they keep changing the rules
I’m crashing through the wrong door
I’m asking, what’s it all for?
I’m straining like the rest of the mules

5. “Invisible” Amy Rigby, Middlescence (Koch, 1998)

I looked for myself in the rear view mirror
I got scared cause there was nobody there
I’m invisible, yeah invisible
I’m who I used to be but nobody sees me
I’m invisible

I walked into a bar, now what was I thinking?
Nobody asked me “Honey, what are you drinking?”
I’m invisible, oh shit I’m invisible!
Since I hit 35, what I want I gotta buy
I’m invisible

I put some makeup on, I dress like someone half my age
I write it in a song, I even get up on the stage
I’m still invisible, well…invisible
I say to hell with my pride, I haven’t got a thing to hide
Cause I’m invisible

I was standing by the ocean in my brand new bathing suit
Guy strolls up to me and tells me “Hey your daughter’s awful cute”
I’m invisible
I said “She’s cute alright, I hope your sunburn peels tonight”
I’m invisible

Now you know my story, at least I think you do
I guess you’re out there, I just can’t see you
Are you invisible?
You must be invisible
I know it hurts to disappear, but you’ve got lots of company here
And we’re invisible

6. “Tonight I’m Gonna Give The Drummer Some” Amy Rigby, Middlescence (Koch, 1998 hidden track)

He’s cute, if a middle-aged man can be described as cute
He’s alive, that’s saying a lot
You’d be surprised how many are not
He’s real, sometimes I wish he’d try to be a little less real
He’s broke, well good thing he knows how to cook
He always fixes a real nice meal

He’s got a drawer full of Zildjian shirts
And a bass drum in his living room
He hits the snare so hard it hurts
And he makes my heart go boom-boom-boom
So tonight I’m gonna give the drummer some
Tonight I’m gonna give the drummer some

He’s sad cause he’s gotta go
Work a day job til somebody calls
He’s pissed cause the guy they chose
Has Cheerios instead of balls
He rocks when he puts The Meters on
And turns it up to ten
He feels low sometimes
Because he knows he’s not like other men
Cause he’s got a drawer full of Zildjian shirts

His splintered sticks
His calloused hands
Stuck in the backpack broke
His hearing sucks
‘Go load the van!’

Here comes another drummer joke…

[Insert drummer jokes to taste i.e. “What’s the difference between a drummer and a savings bond? One will eventually mature and earn money” ba-ding]

7. “Who’s Minding The Store?” Allen Toussaint, Live At New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2007 (Munck Music, Jazz Fest Live May 2007)

Who’s minding the store? (x2)
Does anyone know, who’s minding the store?
Who’s raising the children? Showing them the way.
Does anyone know, who’s minding the store?

Mama and Papa, whoa
Climbing the corporate ladder,
Money and power
Is all that matters
But they have a fit
And be all in your face
Rather than admit
But it’s the case

Who cares? Day cares.
If you’ve got the money
You can drop off your little brats of honey.
And pick them up
When your day is through
So they can have all that’s left of you.
But in your mind, whoa, it’s justified
You’re working for the finest things
That money can buy.
See the nation changing form
Full of pretty houses, but there’s nobody home.


Don’t get caught up in time
Out of line…out of rhyme…out of mind (x2)

{Amadee Castenell saxophone bridge}

Children go to school
They come back home
The house is empty
They’re on their own
Someone used to be there
With an open heart
They got better things to do now
What an ugly thought

Blood on the school grounds
Blood on the wall
Running screaming
Screaming down the hall
They had enough ammo
To pull in the Q
Would you believe,
The parents didn’t have a clue?

But there’s no law
No law a’ground
So we’re turning on each other
Gone to the wild


8. “Crazy Legs & Friday Strut” Jay McShann, The Big Apple Bash Band (Wounded Bird Reissue 2008 of Atlantic Records, 1979)

A video clip of this very session or of a Big Apple Bash band performance of this number would be worth adding to any shell-mound as worthy representation of the creative heights attained by our civilization. Anthros of the future will have to settle for this Jay McShann clip of Hootie hisself revisiting his old midwestern stomping grounds from a 1970s documentary made for Nebraska Public Broadcasting.

9. “Dixie Flyer” Randy Newman (w/Mark Knopfler), Land of Dreams (Warner, 1988)

There’s a meta level lost in this solo live clip of Randy Newman’s terse and very rare indulgence in autobiographical songwriting when compared with the studio session featuring Mark Knopfler’s genteel electric guitar embroidery. Regrettably, Warner Music Group deleted the audio track to the album version upload from You Tube.

I was born right here November ’43
My dad was a captain in the army
Fighting the Germans in Sicily.
My poor little momma
Didn’t know a soul in L.A.
So we went down to the Union Station and made our getaway.
Got on the Dixie Flyer bound for New Orleans
Across the state of Texas to the land of dreams.
On the Dixie Flyer bound for New Orleans
Back to her friends and her family in the land of dreams.
Her own mother came to meet us at the station,
Her dress as black as a crow in a coal mine
She cried when her little girl got off the train.
Her brothers and her sisters drove down from Jackson, Mississippi
In a great green Hudson driven by a Gentile they knew.
Drinkin’ rye whiskey from a flask in the back seat
Tryin’ to do like the Gentiles do
Christ, they wanted to be Gentiles, too.
Who wouldn’t down there, wouldn’t you?
An American Christian, God damn!
On the Dixie Flyer bound for New Orleans
Back to her friends and her family in the land of dreams
On the Dixie Flyer bound for New Orleans
Across the state of Texas to the land of dreams (x2)

10. “Supongamos/Let’s Suppose” (Victor Heredia) Victor Heredia & Leon Gieco, En Vivo (Odeon-EMI Argentina, 1999)

A lovely song written by Argentinian nuevo canción songwriter Victor Heredia and recorded on a live album with the soulful author of the classic ecumenical liberation song “Solo le pido A Dios/All I ask of God (Is that I not be indifferent to the pain/To the injustice)”. Argentinian-Israeli song-lover and translator Clarisa Cecelia Herzberg has done much to deepen the Hebrew and English-speaking world’s appreciation of the poetics of Latin America’s nuevo canción, and here she offers her translation of Heredia’s heartfelt if enigmatic supposition, while a recent performance by Heredia of the song in the Negev Desert capital city of Beersheva’a is linked via You Tube. Needless to say, Gieco’s spirit and harmonica hover for those familiar with the millennial concert caught on En Vivo.

Let’s suppose that I will tell you that
I yearn for another country and I want to go back,
So many years passed that I don’t know
If it is true that I lived it or that I only dreamt.
I was talking with my father without speaking,
We rarely used to talk, the both of us.
It was enough for us to look at each other
In the eyes and we were silenced;

Blue winds were growing in me…
Let’s suppose that I will tell you that
In this same space another city exists;
One of hypodermic and pain
Dark like a kid that is sinking himself in alcohol,
Another blind and deaf one without knowing
That the century around it is dying,
The truth is so tragic
That the death is nice
Cold winds are strolling in me…

Let’s suppose that I am indicating in here
That it is good to remember what one wanted to be.
We were the sun’s young
The nation our blood and everything smeared.
Somebody walked with my song
With their feet bleeding and without love,
You don’t pay with gifts neither with medals
The tears,
Southern winds repeat it in here…
Blue winds were growing in me…

[Translation from the Argentinian Spanish by Clarisa Cecelia Herzberg]

11. “Sure The Boy Was Green” Horslips, Aliens (Horslips Irish Reissue 2010 of live track from The Bottom Line, NYC, 1979)

Unavailable for many years since the late 1970s New York City debut of this Irish band in the legendary Greenwich Village club The Bottom Line, “Sure The Boy Was Green” is the only live track on another Irish-themed song-cycle by the creatively ambitious and hard-rocking Horslips. The band has been reuniting in recent years and last year reissued their landmark Aliens album, timely as ever for the currency of its specific theme of immigrant labor and lives taking root in new soil.

[Prologue: As chronicled in The Book of Invasions, the Sons of Mil inherited Ireland from the mystical Tuatha De Danann in 350 BC. The 1840’s were the Famine Years and once again the Sons of Mil were driven to search for a new home.]

Sure the boy was green
his heart was on the line.
Seventeen and lonely and biding his time. (x2)

He was only a mad moonlighter,
dancing by the sea.
Envying nobody chasing shadows
crazy and free.
You were the cloud that covered the moon
now he just can’t see.

Now he’s just a kid with a runaway heart.
Jumping ship to anywhere, trying to make a
fresh start.
Running away from everything playing a
lonely bit part.
Look at all those fresh young kids, they think
they know it all.
Look at the little crazy guy, swaggering
down the hall.
He could dance his way to freedom if you
don’t make him fall.
Now you got him all to yourself what you
gonna do?
You’re the one who set the trap you know
it’s up to you.
Call the shots, open the cage, you know he
won’t run through.

Torch-bearing lady see this kid,
he’s in love with you.
Dream-selling lady he’s in need, you’d better
come through.

12. “Willamette” The John Doe Thing, Kissing So Hard (Rhino, 1995)

This song from frequent Angeleno guest in Portland, Oregon John Doe may be among the finest of the curbside serenades for life on the precarious farthest flung western edge of America. The freedom to make bad choices yields a reality willfully clouded over by an incessant American Dream machine. Here we get the interior homeless reverie along the banks of the yet-to-be dredged and detoxified Willamette River running through downtown Po’Land. Our narrator adrift on the gritty banks is poignantly pining to reconnect with a father whose advice took root if never quite flowered. Whether sung in Doe’s soul-baring wail over the airwaves of scrappy community radio station www.kboo.org’s long-running “Drinking From Puddles” weekly broadcast or issuing forth from the boom-boxes and lap-tops schlepped from transient hotel to boarding house rooms in any number of gloomy post-industrial river towns across this less exuberant fly-over land from sea to shining sea, it demands that attention be paid.

Sittin’ on the bank not watchin’ the river
I missed out on breakfast
But I think I got a shot at dinner
Nothing here is familiar
But I know I seen it before
Every city’s got busted sidewalks
Everybody wants a little more

I look at the trees, think about buildings
Someone said there’s work in Portland
But I’m pretty sure they’re lying
Wherever I sleep there’s all these people
Walkin’ around over my head
But I’m always glad to wake up
And not wake up dead
I been workin’ on this sign
All morning it’s a waste of time
I been tryin’ to fix this shoe
With a busted needle and some Elmer’s glue
‘Will Work for Food’(x2)

I guess last night I crossed that river
Had a dream and remembered
Just how much I miss my father
Everything here is familiar
But nothing looks quite the same
Maybe I’ll just float down that river
Face up in the drizzlin’ rain

‘Will Work for Food’ (x2)

13. “Chickamauga” Lisa Mednick, Semaphore (Texas Music Group, Austin 2002)

Now playing and recording under married name Lisa Mednick Powell, this woefully undervalued regional poetic resource recorded two of the most desolate sounding and ghostly inhabited song cycles to ever pile up on the scrap heap of the age of the compact disc. Not one to waste syllables or gestures, Mednick’s wind-whipped caterwaul is possessed of the Furies also known to stalk such Plains Zen koan-spinners as Lucinda Williams, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Joe Ely (alone or as The Flatlanders), Terry Lee Hale, Barb Donovan, Jo Carol Pierce, Jo Harvey and Terry Allen. Whether The Furies revisit Civil War battle grounds or Abolitionist terrorist attacks, a map back to human nature’s less well-considered historical decision-makers is the work being left behind.

I came home and married your sweetheart
Stripped you of what I could sell
Walked all the way from Chickamauga in your boots
After I buried you at the creek where you fell

We gave your name to our grandson
Our pride our joy ’til he was sent
Way across the water to die for that flag
The one you and I stood against

She is a sweet pretty angel
Falls just like the snow
Drifting down across the battleground
She follows wherever I go

I’ve been climbing these hills since the day I left you here
Never once seen the valley beyond
All roads led to sorrow from here
It didn’t matter what color you had on


I’ve come back here to tell you
Alone at the end of my days
Awaiting that merciful stranger
She visits me oh lord but she never stays


14. “Mercenaries (Ready For War)” John Cale Essen Band, Live On Rockpalast (German TV originally recorded 10/13/84 WDR, Cologne, 2010 CD edition)

Sending this one out to the dogged if out-matched civil servants at the GAO tasked with finding out how much tax-payer money (socialized risk) has been doled out to Xe Services LLC nee Erik “Patriot” Prince’s Blackwater (privatized never-ending War On Terrorism profits) over the last ten years. Anyone remember the Hessians? How about Yair Klein’s Hod Ha’Hanit from Colombia to Congo?

Mercenaries are useless, disgruntled, disunited, unfaithful
They have nothing more to keep them in a battle
Other than a meager wage
Which is just about enough to make them wanna kill for ya
But never enough to want ta make them die for ya
I’m just another soldier boy
I’m just another soldier boy
Looking for work
Let’s face it
I’m looking for war!

My rifle is my friend
My rifle is my friend
I clean my rifle every day
I clean my rifle every day
That’s why my rifle is my friend
Ready for war, ready for war (x4)

Did some work in Zaire, the jolly old Belgian Congo
Went back to Geneva to get paid
Back there in Geneva, that’s were the money grows
That’s were the money grows, that’s were the money flows
They didn’t wanna pay me
They didn’t wanna pay me, but they did
Try to separate me from my money
That’s like trying to separate me from my life

Ready for war, ready for war (x4)

Let’s go to Moscow, let’s go to Moscow
Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go to Moscow
Fight a backdoor to the Kremlin
Push it down and walk on in
Howdy howdy howdy doo-ya day
Let’s go to Moscow

5000 feet and closing
Target visibility one nine
4000 feet and closing
Target visibility two six
3000 feet and closing
Target visibility seven nine
2000 feet and closing
Visibility one ten
1000 feet and closing
Visibility seven four
500 feet and closing
Target visibility zeroow-o!

Ready for war, ready for war
You better be ready for war
Ready for war, ready for war
Are you ready for war?

15. “Human Loss & Gain” (Bajka Pluwatsch, Daniel Regenberg, Jerker Kluge Radio Utopia) Club Des Belugas [remix] featuring lyric & vocal by Bajka, Zoo Zizaro (Chin Chin Records, 2010)

The enigmatic India-born and German-raised globetrotting vocalist and songwriter has gone AWOL from her record label Chin Chin since recording her solo debut album Bajka In Wonderland in late 2010. Earlier that year Chin Chin had released remixes of Bajka’s recording project with Radio Utopia that was quickly picked up by Portland, Oregon free-form radio artist DJ Chintzy Schmaltz whose Monday at midnight deceptively named Lounge World program plays with vintage Mid-20th Century American radio broadcasting tropes and features what creator Joe Woods via DJ Chintzy Schmaltz dubs a “nu-jazz, broken-world, down-tempo, pro-peace dance music party.” Chin Chin’s house band Club des Belugas added Bajka’s “Human Loss & Gain” to a stunning and stylistically diverse rhythm and blues collection featuring other indelible vocal originals aside from Bajka. However, Bajka’s lyric and vocal stamp the Belugas retro grooves with a fresh and surprising palette of musical and philosophical poetic timbres. It’s existentialist for the 21st Century in a Pynchonesque Keep cool, but care random hang loose Drone-delivered V rocket sorta way.

(Scat over traps)

Life to live amongst death & peace
History’s repetition is that wars won’t cease
Lovers don’t buy passion from material wealth
Reaching rhythm comes from spiritual starvation

Born to laugh and born to cry
here to live or soul to die
Better to believe in life that there’s a God
than to live our life as if there’s not
Die to find one day…there IS

We are not alone
For we’ve been in an outcast state
Lookin’ upon ourselves
& cursing all our fate
Wishing to be more rich in hope
Able to say this meant all & that makes hope
Human loss & gain

The birth first beat
the heart skips
Life makes us grow
to live consciously
For we do not know what effects the future
We don’t remember when things used to be
plain and simple
So we grow to see
We’ve all got to help to make a change
We’ve all got to help to make a change

We are not alone
For we’ve been in an outcast state
Lookin’ upon ourselves
& cursing all our fate
Wishing to be more rich in hope
Able to say this meant all & that makes hope

Human loss & gain (repeat)

Sum of the world
In human loss & gain
Went to the sessions
In sweet silent thought
Chaos, wars, dysfunction in men’s eyes
Troubled heavens with heartless cries
Over bass clouds rising sun
Early morning shines
More than just an hour of yours and mine
Exist in glory, no disgrace
True beauty with celestial face
Kiss it with golden hearts
The jungle green
How many glorious mornings
Have they seen?

All triumphant splendor
from their brow
Reachin’ clouds
nasty from their snout
Hope always will remain
Sons of the world
Sum of human loss & gain
Born to laugh and born to cry
There to live or soul to die

We are not alone
For we’ve been in an outcast state…(repeat)

16. “All Used Up” Utah Phillips & Mark Ross (Red House Records, 1997)

We’re over 50, lost our accrued seniority and health benefits being downsized in a Work At Will state and this is what we gather around the fire under the bridge to sing (with gusto, you betcha, God damn).

I spent my whole life making somebody rich
I busted my ass for that son of a bitch
He left me to die like a dog in a ditch
And told me I’m all used up

He used up my labor, he used up my time
He plundered my body and squandered my mind
Then he gave me a pension, some handouts and wine
And told me I’m all used up

My kids are in hock to a god you call Work
Slaving their lives out for some other jerk
And my youngest in ‘Frisco just made shipping-clerk
He don’t know I’m all used up

Some young people reach out for power and gold
And they don’t have respect for anything old
For pennies they’re bought, for promises sold
Someday they’ll be used up

They use up the oil, they use up the trees
They use up the air and they use up the seas
But how about you, friend, and how about me
What’s left, when we’re all used up

I’ll finish my life in this crummy hotel
It’s lousy with bugs and my God, what a smell
But my plumbing still works and I’m clear as a bell
Don’t tell me I’m all used up

Outside my window the world passes by
It gives me a handout, then spits in my eye
And no one can tell me, ’cause no one knows why
I’m still living, but I’m all used up

Sometimes in a dream I sit by a tree
My life is a book of how things used to be
And the kids gather ’round and they listen to me
They don’t think I’m all used up

And there’s songs and there’s laughter and things I can do
And all that I’ve learned I can give back to you
And I’d give my last breath just to make it come true
And to know I’m not all used up

They use up the oil, they use up the trees
They use up the air and they use up the seas
But as long as I’m breathing they won’t use up me
Don’t tell me I’m all used up

17. “The Jimmy Hoffa Memorial Building Blues” Danny O’Keefe, Global Blues (Wounded Bird Reissue 2006 of Warners, 1979)

Neil Young started it all with his Reagan Morning-In-America-As-Only-An-Ex-Pat-Never-Worked-a-Day-Job-In-His-Life-Canadian-can song from what I have to admit is a brilliant one-off submersion into American know-nothing roots Hawks & Doves on a call & response song parodying a music local’s meeting called “Union Man.” It’s funnier than Woody Guthrie’s “Union Maid,” but when I saw Neil Young on a piano stool hammering away at the roll-away debuting it with a new band featuring astonishing Cajun fiddler Rufus Thibodeaux at Mimi Fariña’s 1981 Bread & Roses Acoustic Music Festival at the Greek Theater in the Berkeley hills, all bets were off on how straight or twisted it was intended to be.

Next up was Bob Dylan’s post-conversion “Union Sundown” from Infidels, played pretty straight a few years later and well before the wholesale sell-out of U.S. labor by President Bill Clinton with what H. Ross Perot rightfully predicted would be “that giant sucking sound you hear is jobs going to Mexico,” otherwise known as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). Dylan’s another guy what never punched a time clock in his adult life.

While I cannot vouch for Danny O’Keefe’s workingman’s bona fides, this spiraling clarinet-driven session plays off the swinging phrasing O’Keefe used to woo first Atlantic Records’ tastemakers and then tasteful song-makers like Jackson Browne who lobbied for Warners to sign O’Keefe to a multi-album deal. O’Keefe’s a man who knows how to cut all sorts of deals and live to tell the tale. This is one of his better contemporary American historical glosses. Couldn’t find a video clip of this particular tune to illustrate the lyric, but the You Tube link will take you away to a more recent shot O’Keefe takes at the sexual unraveling of the North American Catholic Church tacked on to a more innocent ditty he wrote, yet also withheld recording about not finding religion while not begrudging anyone who has of the comforts taken there. Back in the 1980’s at bar and club gigs O’Keefe could spin a mighty funny yarn around the inspiration for writing “Pray For Me,” actually one of his more lovely and tender melodies with lyrics circumspect of the human condition and unmistakably compassionate. All the easier to take when set up with O’Keefe’s insomniac memories of the deregulated airwaves marathon of competing all-night TV huckster-evangelists like The Reverend Ike and the Stanford-accredited obsessive-compulsive Rev. Gene Scott who introduced the technique of berating and branding his “ditto-head” audience to cow them into blind obedience long before Rush Limbaugh played that card to cultivate his own demagoguery over talk radio.

They’re putting up a building down on Main Street
Paid for with all those truckers’ dues
But the man who laid the first stone on the corner
Had the Jimmy Hoffa Memorial Building Blues

Now some say Jimmy’s down in Argentina
Others tell you that he simply changed his name
And a surgeon made him look a bit like Nixon
But aside from that he’s still pretty much the same

Where’s Jimmy? Where’s Jimmy?
That’s a question I know we all would love to know
Where’s Jimmy? Where’s Jimmy?
He’s gone to where those good ol’ boys all go

Now the gang that runs the union said to Jimmy
Here’s what we’re all prepared to do
We’re gonna build the Boys a brand new union building
And we want you to dedicate it, too

But I heard a rumor down at the dedication
From the kinda guy who has a nose for news
He said Jimmy died of terminal cement poisoning
And the Jimmy Hoffa Memorial Building Blues

They said; “Here’s a thing you men can all be proud of”
They laid a horseshoe wreath upon the cornerstone
They said; “Here’s to freight and the Great American Freeway
And the man who helped us make it all our own”

Where’s Jimmy? Where’s Jimmy?
That’s a question I know we all would love to know
Where’s Jimmy? Where’s Jimmy?
He’s gone to where those good ol’ good ol’ good ol’ good ol’
Good ol’ good ol’ good ol’ good ol’ good ol’
Good ol’ boys all go

—Mitch Ritter
A Lay Low Studios, Or-Wa blend especially for Driftwood Magazine

One comment on “Mitch’s Monthly Mix: Summer Wages

  1. Deeply thought-provoking and entirely timely, as always.

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