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Oliver Anthony Is a Huge Improvement Over Kid Rock and Ted Nugent

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  hal-a-lujah  •  11 months ago  •  8 comments

By:   John Cook

Oliver Anthony Is a Huge Improvement Over Kid Rock and Ted Nugent
Oliver Anthony has become MAGA favorite. But his spare, mournful songs make him a vast improvement over the schlock-rock that conservatives usually tout.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


To many people, the most significant thing about the viral emergence of folk-country songwriter Oliver Anthony this month wasn't his raw voice or melancholy tunes — it was the character of his newfound fan base.

I first came across the red-bearded Virginian on the feed of fascist-friendly Pizzagate theorist Jack Posobiec, who enthusiastically shared a video of Anthony singing "Rich Men North of Richmond" by saying he couldn't "remember the last time a new song hit me like this."

The song, a backcountry lamentation about obese welfare cheats, taxes, Jeffrey Epstein, and the titular shadowy rich men who seek to control the working man's thoughts, was catnip to the MAGA crowd. Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Green hailed it as an anthem for the victims struggling in Joe Biden's America.

Coming on the heels of the wildfire success of Jason Aldean's "Try That In a Small Town" and the QAnon-themed movie "The Sound of Freedom," starring right-wing actor Jim Caveziel, Anthony's popularity seemed to mark a watershed moment for MAGA cultural power.

As if to push back against that moment, critics began to rise up with qualms. The Washington Post worried that "Rich Men" "signals a mainstreaming of ideas that were once fringe." New York magazine subjected it to a comically intense 2,000-word interrogation, summoning economic data and historical analysis to conclude that its "gripes" are "ill-founded." The New York Times' Jamelle Bouie accused Oliver of giving "comfort to those with the boot on his neck."

I share the skepticism of any shiny new bauble being celebrated by the likes of Greene and Boebert. But here's the thing: "Rich Men North of Richmond" is… not bad.

Sure, the fact that Anthony chooses the capital of the Confederacy as the dividing line between the good guys and the bad guys is a red flag.

But as a song, it is simple and unadorned, giving plenty of running room for Anthony's clear baritone, which manages to be sharp and vulnerable at the same time.

Most important, as a songwriter and musician, Anthony is a vast improvement over his peers in the pantheon of celebrated right-wing musicians. That's not saying much, given that the competition is dominated by Ted Nugent and Kid Rock. But whether you think Oliver is Trojan-horsing crypto-racist ideology into the cultural conversation or not, you have to admit that his success represents progress over the dick-banging, posturing schlock that counts as "conservative music" these days.

A glance at Oliver's available online catalog — which almost exclusively consists of solo arrangements, with Oliver accompanying himself with a mournful, unamplified Gretsch resonator guitar — makes clear that he is capable of a level of subtlety and self-awareness that escape the likes of Kid Rock and Nugent. As a songwriter steeped in the Appalachian tradition, Oliver is as concerned with sin, self-doubt, and the struggle to be a good person in a fallen world as he is with tribal politics.

Although "Richmond" is more of a blast of rage than a self-lacerating hymn, its narrator still laments that he is wasting his life away. "I Want to Go Home," which was praised by Sen. Ted Cruz as "a song for our time," is more explicitly melancholy. The narrator is lucky not to be "strung up" in the "psych ward," and finds himself beseeching the lord when he reaches the end of his rope: "I don't know which road to go / It's been so long / I just know I didn't used to wake up feelin' this way / Cussin' myself every damn day."

It feels closer to "I Hate Myself and Want to Die" than "God Bless the USA."

As a songwriter and performer, Oliver is clearly positioning himself as an inheritor to the straight-country tradition of Hank Williams and the Louvin Brothers, whose themes of sorrow, regret, self-doubt, and redemption don't mix well with uncomplicated MAGA triumphalism.

"I Gotta Get Sober" is a slow minor-key waltz with a delightfully tight classic-country chorus: "I've gotta get sober / I've gotta start livin' right / And I don't know how it's gonna go / But it ain't gonna happen tonight."

Likewise, "Cobwebs and Cocaine" doesn't quite sound like walk-on music at the 2024 RNC:


Well my poor old wife, grabbed a shot box of lead

Ran a 410 slug, plum through her head

She said she'd rather be living in hell, than with me instead

And I can't find fault in that

'Cause these cobwebs and cocaine, are the only things left in my brain

I'm shoveling coal, on the midnight train

Headed straight toward the depths of hell

Whether you like it or not, it's hard to deny that these songs — when they are not dog-whistling racists — are wrestling with serious ideas that go way beyond "my suffering is Joe Biden's fault." And they are presented, quite cannily, as the work of a single man and his trusty guitar, out in the woods with a faithful dog at his feet and an old pickup truck in the background.

It's may be a carefully crafted image, but it's an inarguable improvement over the domineering, bombastic, ear- and brain-splitting aesthetic of most explicitly right-wing music.

Contrast it with conservative favorite Kid Rock, whose "We the People" opens with this clever bit of artistry:


We the people

In all we do

Reserve the right

To scream fuck you

The video features Rock, wearing an "American Badass" trucker hat, playing various musical instruments emblazoned with the stars and stripes.

A screenshot from the video for Kid Rock's "We the People" YouTube

Or Nugent, whose claim to fame is a song about venereal disease exploiting the fact that the female anatomy shares a nickname with a common term for cats. His more recent work includes "Come and Take It," with the lines:


No more kings no tyrants

No more jackboot thugs

We will unleash violence

For the land that we love

So you see, it could be worse.

Anthony released a YouTube video today that sought to pour cold water on the conservative embrace he's enjoyed and making clear that he doesn't stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the GOP politicians that are seizing on his songs.

But I hope that doesn't diminish his popularity among the MAGA set. It's heartening to see someone who's at least trying to write good songs making inroads into what has been a cultural desert. And some of the greatest songwriters of our time have come back from the brink of political hackery.

The great Merle Haggard recovered from co-writing "Okie from Muskogee," which now stands as high-camp hypocrisy about the dangers of marijuana and sandals from a cocaine-addled mind. He wrote some even worse tunes, including "I'm a White Boy," which is what it sounds like and has aged even worse.

But by the time he ended his career, Haggard was the unquestioned poet of the American working man and woman, regarded by the right and the left as a visionary. And in one of the last interviews he gave before he died in April 2016, he expressed what Rolling Stone described as "amusement and concern" over Donald Trump's presidential ambitions.

"I think he's dealing from a strange deck," he told the magazine.


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Hal A. Lujah
Professor Guide
1  seeder  Hal A. Lujah    11 months ago

I’m not a country music fan at all, but I can appreciate some bluegrass.  I’ve only heard this song once and musically it wasn’t anything that appealed to me personally, but the article does have some good points.  I heard an interview with this guy and it seemed that he was amused that the right has adopted it, since he is definitely not their kind.  I’m sure he is happy about the proceeds, as he clearly isn’t a wealthy guy.

In my preteen years I was just a stupid kid, and I loved Ted Nugent.  As I got into the teen years and started paying more attention to the social issues happening in the country and around the world, it started dawning on me what a complete sleazebag Nugent is.  I got rid of all his albums and found better music to listen to.  I’ve always seen right through Kid Rock during his rise, and there’s never been a point in my life when I’d give his music any consideration regardless of how catchy or trendy it had become.  It is sad that the right has latched on to this new musician who actually can craft worthwhile lyrics, considering that the only value they see in him is the sense of grievance apparent in one of his songs.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2  Trout Giggles    11 months ago
The song, a backcountry lamentation about obese welfare cheats, taxes, Jeffrey Epstein, and the titular shadowy rich men who seek to control the working man's thoughts, was catnip to the MAGA crowd. Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Green hailed it as an anthem for the victims struggling in Joe Biden's America.

I grew up in the Alleghenies which is on the North end of the Appalachians. I have problems with all the things he laments. But most especially with the "trickle-down" economics that has enhanced the wealth of the upper 1% and destroyed the middle class.

As for Boebert and Large Marge...they haven't a working brain cell between them so they obviously can't understand the nuance of the song.

 
 
 
Hal A. Lujah
Professor Guide
2.1  seeder  Hal A. Lujah  replied to  Trout Giggles @2    11 months ago

He dissects the hit song in this YouTube video, and it’s pretty clear that the right has really stepped in it by assuming he’s their spokesperson.  Unfortunately it seems that many on the left have reflexively attacked it for a lyric they didn’t grasp properly regarding the food stamp situation in the US.  I’m not sure how much my own ideology has in common with him, but I’d listen to him at length because he does have some intelligent things to say and his lyrical abilities are noteworthy.

(note to Perrie: I still can’t embed YouTube videos for some reason)

 
 
 
Sean Treacy
Professor Principal
3  Sean Treacy    11 months ago

Glad the artist passed the social fitness test to the left. Art demands political conformity. 

 
 
 
Hal A. Lujah
Professor Guide
3.1  seeder  Hal A. Lujah  replied to  Sean Treacy @3    11 months ago

Do you realize that your knee jerk political negativity is exactly what this guys rails against?  You are the poster child of his message.

 
 
 
Sean Treacy
Professor Principal
3.1.1  Sean Treacy  replied to  Hal A. Lujah @3.1    11 months ago

Lol. I don't give two shits if a singer's politics align with mine.  I couldn't care less what they believe. I like the music or I don't, regardless of whether the singer claims to be  a devotee of Edmund Burke or Marx.  

Art speaks for itself. 

To spend time obsessing about  the beliefs of a dude who sings in his backyard (or any other musician) seems about as pointless as any activity.  

 
 
 
Hal A. Lujah
Professor Guide
3.1.2  seeder  Hal A. Lujah  replied to  Sean Treacy @3.1.1    11 months ago

I see.  So a singer is nothing but a singer to you.  Any intelligent argument that speaks to both political sides should be celebrated, but you’re far too jaded and astute to participate in that conversation.  I don’t even care for his music but I can see value in his attempt at bettering the conversation for the sake of our future.  Keep on hating though, and the rest of us will keep on pitying you.

 
 
 
Texan1211
Professor Principal
3.1.3  Texan1211  replied to  Sean Treacy @3.1.1    11 months ago
Lol. I don't give two shits if a singer's politics align with mine.  I couldn't care less what they believe. I like the music or I don't, regardless of whether the singer claims to be  a devotee of Edmund Burke or Marx.  

Now, that certainly goes against the current fad of analyzing everything anyone has ever done and then tainting EVERYTHING they have ever done because of one incident or simply because the listener didn't like the politics of the singer. Weird stuff!

 
 

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