What's Tony Thinking

Rich Men North of Richmond


Grace for the Hillbilly

Friends, many of you read my blog last week on Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Demon Copperhead, and about her comments in interviews on the book regarding Appalachia and the rural parts of America. That version was picked up by Seattle’s Post Alley, where it got a lot of feedback/ comments.

But I wrote a second version, call it the theological version for Mockingbird, which is posted above. You can access the theological version, which plays much more on themes of law and grace, by clicking on “Grace for the Hillbilly” above. This version would not have flown for Post Alley’s more secular audience. But the opposite is also true, the Post Alley version wouldn’t have appeared at Mockingbird.

Especially if you have read the earlier version, you might find comparing the two to be of interest.

There’s one more reason to open the Mockingbird version posted above. My editor there, Todd Brewer, spliced in the song “Rich Men North of Richmond,” by singer/ songwriter Oliver Anthony. This song has apparently gone viral big time, though Anthony has no big music connection or backing.

“Rich Men North of Richmond” is a populist anthem about being part of America’s working class, maybe especially its rural working class. It’s an angry lament, which targets the powerful people in and around D.C. who call the shots and run things for people living in rural Virginia. Here’s a portion of the lyrics:

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

The most striking line, to me, is this one: “Livin’ in the new world/ With an old soul.” I suspect a lot of people feel that way, whether they are working class or another class, living in rural, urban or suburban America. There’s a miss and disconnect between our souls and much of the world we live in.

The other line here that is striking is “These rich men north of Richmond/ Lord knows they all just wanna have total control.” It’s not just about money. It’s about money, but also about power and agency over your own life and in your own community.

“Rich Men North of Richmond” fits really well with the points Kingsolver has made in her interviews. In this coming election year, I’d say politicians of both parties need to listen up.




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