Mixtape: Unemployment, Part 1

“Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together…” – Sal Paradise, On the Road

The book on America in 2011 is unemployment.  It’s the same book we’ve been reading since 2009, we’re just on chapter three.  There are about 14 million people out of work.  Most are looking for work, but many have given up – burning through their savings and hoping for the best.  We see the numbers everyday and read the reports in the paper.  We read the profiles in courage of families trying to make it on part-time work and duct tape.  It’s heartbreaking.

Fourteen million people is a small country. We have stories, we have numbers and research papers, we have plotlines in T.V. and movies.  We know why people are unemployed.  We have ideas about how to get everything back on track.  What we don’t have is an anthem, a song to tell the story.  We need a soundtrack.

This post has been languishing in my draft folder for weeks.  I’ve had a difficult time conceptualizing what form this should take.  How do you capture a condition, using the songs of others? What does it sound like?  Should it be a screed, spewing nothing but anger and anguish?  Should it be hopeful, looking to the future and greener pastures?  Should it be something akin to the stages of grief, moving from anger to acceptance?  It should be all of that.  Because we have to sing.  We have to dance.  We have to drink and make merry.  Because, well, “there’s nothing else to do”.

We’ll take it in three parts and build. This is not the final track order, it’s an outline.  So here we go, unemployment by mixtape.

Track 1 – Aloe Blacc, I Need Dollar:  “I need dollar” is  not your first thought when you lose your job. It’s “fuck”. You get around to money after the shock has worn off.  And when you get around to the money, you need commiserate and let Aloe Blacc tell his story:

“I had a job but the boss man let me go | He said, I’m sorry but I won’t be needing your help no more | I said, Please mister boss man I need this job more than you know | But he gave me my last paycheck and he sent me on out the door…”

Track 2 – Pulp, Common People:  “when there’s nothing left to do, except dance and drink and screw”.  It’s an anthem for everyone down on their luck.  It’s a cry of solidarity for everyone trying to make it work.  All we have to do is sing along:

“You will never understand, How it feels to live your life, With no meaning or control, And with nowhere left to go | Sing along with the common people, Sing along and it might just get you through, Laugh along with the common people…”

Track 3 – Mountain Goats, This Year: It may be the ballad of an angry and out-of-control seventeen year old, but it fits.  As with Common People sometimes you just have to sing:

“I am gonna make through this year, if it kills me…”

Track 4 – E.L.O., Mister Blue Sky: Because the more days that you can wake up and say “It’s a beautiful new day hey,hey…”, the better off you’ll be.  Try to listen to this song and not want to jump around the room like a loon.

Track 5 – Bear Hands, Crime Pays:  A cautionary tale? Perhaps. ” Seven years in jail and no bail.”  The thing is, when thoughts turn to “I need dollar” and there is no work, you would not be blamed if the next two thoughts were:

“Everyone knows that crime pays, And everybody does it | Everyone knows that crime pays, And everybody loves it…”

Track 6 – Serge Gainsbourg, Le poinconneur des Lilas: Translated, it means The Conductor of the Lilas.  The song is about a Paris Metro ticket puncher.  In the Underground there is no sunlight and the monotony is crushing him. He sings “J’fais des trou, des p’tit trous, encor des p’tit trous ( I punch holes, little holes, more little holes…).” Gainsbourg’s ticket puncher wants to get out, to escape to the woods or become an air hostess.  But he can’t, so he imagines punching a hole in his head.

It’s good to remember that it could always be worse, even if you have a job

Track 7 – The Rakes, Just a Man with a Job:  English language adaptation of Le poinconneur des Lilas. It’s not as colorful as the original, but it’s sung with a bit more urgency and despair.

Tracks 8 – 14, next week.  Suggestions welcome.

Pic Via


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