Monday, November 28, 2005

We Can't Make It Here Anymore

Every year my brother-in-law and I spend part of the Thanksgiving holidays playing our favorite music for one another. We put together our Top 15 or 20 albums of the year and play DJ, with an audience of one (sometimes more, but we tend to kick them out, because they want to talk, and we want to listen; damn relatives).

We did it again this year. And this was one of the songs I heard. It's a great song. I listened to it while trying to digest too much food. The irony wasn't lost on me. But even on an empty stomach, there's a lot to digest here. I want to work for justice. I want that justice to be tempered by mercy. And as this song points out, we live in a country where both are in short supply.

Vietnam Vet with a cardboard sign
Sitting there by the left turn line
Flag on the wheelchair flapping in the breeze
One leg missing, both hands free
No one's paying much mind to him
The V.A. budget's stretched so thin
And there's more comin' home from the Mideast war
We can't make it here anymore

That big ol' building was the textile mill
It fed our kids and it paid our bills
But they turned us out and they closed the doors
We can't make it here anymore

See all those pallets piled up on the loading dock
They're just gonna set there till they rot
'Cause there's nothing to ship, nothing to pack
Just busted concrete and rusted tracks
Empty storefronts around the square
There's a needle in the gutter and glass everywhere
You don't come down here 'less you're looking to score
We can't make it here anymore

The bar's still open but man it's slow
The tip jar's light and the register's low
The bartender don't have much to say
The regular crowd gets thinner each day

Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won't pay for a roof, won't pay for a drink
If you gotta have proof just try it yourself Mr. CEO
See how far 5.15 an hour will go
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can't make it here anymore

High school girl with a bourgeois dream
Just like the pictures in the magazine
She found on the floor of the laundromat
A woman with kids can forget all that
If she comes up pregnant what'll she do
Forget the career, forget about school
Can she live on faith? live on hope?
High on Jesus or hooked on dope
When it's way too late to just say no
You can't make it here anymore

Now I'm stocking shirts in the Wal-Mart store
Just like the ones we made before
'Cept this one came from Singapore
I guess we can't make it here anymore

Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in
Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They've never known want, they'll never know need
Their shit don't stink and their kids won't bleed
Their kids won't bleed in their damn little war
And we can't make it here anymore

Will work for food
Will die for oil
Will kill for power and to us the spoils
The billionaires get to pay less tax
The working poor get to fall through the cracks
Let 'em eat jellybeans let 'em eat cake
Let 'em eat shit, whatever it takes
They can join the Air Force, or join the Corps
If they can't make it here anymore

And that's how it is
That's what we got
If the president wants to admit it or not
You can read it in the paper
Read it on the wall
Hear it on the wind
If you're listening at all
Get out of that limo
Look us in the eye
Call us on the cell phone
Tell us all why

In Dayton, Ohio
Or Portland, Maine
Or a cotton gin out on the great high plains
That's done closed down along with the school
And the hospital and the swimming pool
Dust devils dance in the noonday heat
There's rats in the alley
And trash in the street
Gang graffiti on a boxcar door
We can't make it here anymore
-- James McMurtry, "We Can't Make It Here"


John McCollum said...

That's beautiful. Thanks for posting it.

Anonymous said...

Andy, I'm glad someone besides me liked that CD. I think that song is outstanding, even though, as you know, the rational economic side of me rebels at some of the thoughts expressed. The raw emotion reaches that populist side of me that I'm always pleasantly surprised to see hasn't left.

I'm glad you made me aware of your blog, so that I don't have to wait to see you or to get the next Paste magazine to find out what's on your mind, musically and otherwise.

Andy Whitman said...

Bill, the album was sitting in the mailbox when I arrived home from Thanksgiving, waiting for me to write my Paste review, which I did after a couple short listens because the deadline was pressing.

I wish I liked James McMurtry better as a singer. The review in a nutshell: great songs, pretty good band, not-so-great singer. There are many vocalists who are less than stellar in popular music, but even old gargle-with-Drano himself, Bob Dylan, is still idiosyncratic enough in his phrasing for me to overlook the obvious deficiencies. But McMurtry is just sort of blah. I think I can sing as well as he does, and that's not a compliment. But I really, really like the songs, particularly the one I quoted.

Karen said...

i think it's great that your brother-in-law and you get along so well. that you have stuff in common. i don't think that happens all that often. :)

Andy Whitman said...

Karen, I think it's great, too. Every Thanksgiving 35 of us from Kate's extended family -- four generations now -- get together at a bunch of cabins at Old Man's Cave State Park and eat, drink, hike, and talk our way through the holidays. And rock 'n roll.

It's a wonderful time. Amazingly enough, everybody gets along. Well, it's really even better than that, I think. Everybody genuinely enjoys one another's company. It's chaos, but the best kind of chaos. And yes, I know that doesn't happen in many families, and I'm very thankful for it.

John McCollum said...


Please tell me Nancy didn't buy the iPod on 'Buy Nothing Day.'

Just kidding.

What kind did you get?