Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Get a Job

It irritates me that American popular culture ignores the way that most people spend their days, i.e., working. Sure, maybe most people hate their jobs and don't want to be reminded of having to fill out forms for the shipping department when they go home and put on their Lynyrd Skynyrd records, but at the same time, those cultural outlets that do focus on the office grind certainly resonate with a lot of people. It's not for nothing that Dilbert seems to be the most popular comic strip in America; Mike Judge's 1999 film Office Space has become a cult hit in spite of the fact that it's really not all that good. The NBC series The Office (unseen by me) appears to be quite popular as well.

I think one reason that artists overlook what it means to spend eight hours a day in a cubicle is that many of them have never had to do so. Particularly in a young man's game like rock & roll, there is very little experience of the workaday world, so the people who can write credibly about it are few and far between. Mostly they talk generically about the repetitive, wearying toil, as witness:

"I'm going to pack my lunch in the morning/And go to work each day/And when the evening rolls around/I'll go on home and lay my body down/And when the morning light comes streaming in/I'll get up and do it again" -- Jackson Browne, "The Pretender"

"Still, tomorrow's gonna be another working day/And I'm trying to get some rest/That's all, I'm trying to get some rest" -- Paul Simon, "American Tune"

And my favorite: "I've done my best to live the right way/I get up every morning and go to work each day" -- Bruce Springsteen, "The Promised Land"

That's one reason that Fountains of Wayne's Welcome Interstate Managers is so impressive; it is aware not just of the soul-crushing tedium of getting up every morning to go to work, but it knows what people do all day at their jobs. The narrator of the brilliant "Bright Future in Sales" is "heading for the airport on a misty morning/Gonna catch a flight to Baltimore," but in the interim he has to "do some quick reading for the big meeting," which of course he hasn't done yet, because who wants to read anything for a meeting? In "Little Red Light," it's possibly the same character who is "Stuck in a meeting on Monday night/Trying to get the numbers to come out right." (Strangely enough, another work-oriented song on the album, "Hey Julie," seems to have gotten its cliched ideas about office life from reruns of "The Stockard Channing Show.")

I'd like to talk more about this topic, but I have some invoices to follow up on.


MJN said...

See also Rush's "Working Man" for silly, generic lyrics about one's job.

T. Nawrocki said...

This song was unfamailiar to me, but the vapidity here is too rich to pass up:

"I get up at seven, yeah
And I go to work at nine
I got no time for livin
Yes, Im workin all the time"

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is as specific as this song gets.

B Beckman said...

I nominate Sheena Easton's "My Baby Takes the Morning Train" where Baby and Sheena make love and party after he returns from work every Tuesday (and Monday and Wednesday, etc). as the least true description of the working life.

As if it's not already implemented in your skull, here's the chorus.

"My baby takes the morning train, he works from nine till five and then
He takes another home again to find me waitin' for him"

I don't think one can begin to explain why any rational man would allow either children or dogs to share his living space without understanding just how outside reality sits finding a grown woman or any other non-canine non-7 year old actually "waitin' for him" (in any sense of the word) nightly (or any less frequent basis of one's choosing)

(Gram Parsons anticipated MBTTMT by giving Baby's perspective in "Streets of Baltimore")