Way back in 1966 Allen Toussaint teamed up with Lee Dorsey and released Working in the Coal Mine that became an all time favorite. Yeah, we were rock and roll fans but a good R&B tune never failed to shake us up and sing along. A local band played the song for years at the Friday night dances and we never tired of it. Even in the midst of the Vietnam war it was a time of awakening and of high hopes for the future but I think there was a nagging in the back of our minds that we all may end up a coal miner of sorts but with cleaner faces and hands. We did.
For the masses with a mindset of work and debt is the American way, we daily climbed in the rail car and rode down the coal hole tempering the tediousness with thoughts of faster cars, bigger houses and TVs and a never ending supply of Budweisers. Yes sir, the rail car was a fairly smooth ride until one day on the trip down the cavern we came to a fork with big signs blocking both ways saying “Closed.” One said this vein has been mined out and the other indicated that more profits for the owners have been found by utilizing cheaper labor in foreign lands that have no unions or workers rights. The ride back to the daylight found only cloudy skies. The media said “don’t worry,” it’s just a transition because we’re a service oriented country now and we’ll let others do the dirty work that we didn’t want to do anyway.
I remember a long time ago on a nice Sunday just like today my girl and I expanded our consciousness, filled up the gas tank and took a ride into Kentucky. A few wrong turns east and we ended up on gravel roads through some beautiful hills that seemed to never end. Lost but happy we rambled on into the coal mining area of Appalachia where there was little but shacks and tin trailers and lost American dreams. Close to dark we finally found a small town, a $6 motel and discovered we were over 150 miles from home. Lying in that shabby motel bed we pondered why by geographical and parental fate we were lucky not to have been born in this place where the only jobs were underground. We had factory jobs, above ground, air conditioned even. Our luck would never end we said, it would only get better. Little did we know.
I hear a lot of talk about getting Americans back to work. The godfather Herman Cain rolled into town the other day to try and drum up votes for his ‘vision’ of a presidential takeover. Jobs jobs jobs he cries without any details on the hows while humming “I’ve got dem ole Islamic blues again.” You might think someone whose ancestors were cotton pickin’ slaves would go a little easier on the racist rhetoric but I suppose he enjoys the reverse role playing. Turning on the radio just after an interview with Herm, I heard the hacks flipping coins for whether they would support him or Michele Bachmann. It was so funny I forget to laugh.
Good jobs are going to the women these days it is said. They’re getting the better education, are aggressive and for many of the ‘smart’ ones this idea of raising kids is passé. Trading the slavery of motherhood for the slavery of corporatehood seems like a good deal. Many of the modern movies tell us so.
Come to think of it, maybe we deserve Ms. Bachmann as our next pres. Equal opportunity to be top dog and serve the bankers, Israel and the war machine is a concept whose time may have come.
Getting back to our title tune, we often find that good songs somehow degenerate over time. When “Working in the Coal Mine” was recorded by Harry Connick, Jr. we may have thought that was as low as it could go. But no, for a few coins it was leased to Walmart and the lyrics changed to “Working on the rollbacks, prices going down down.” Mining for that last dollar is what they do.
No offense to Lee Dorsey but my favorite version is from Devo. Maybe because de-evolution is really what is going down.