Take “Rich Men North of Richmond” Seriously

Take “Rich Men North of Richmond” Seriously

If the counties (and states) north of Richmond were red instead of blue and treated the working men south of Richmond with magnanimity rather than neglect or contempt, there still would be a problem because what those men need isn’t patronage; it’s control over their own lives and a say in the fate of their own communities. No wage ever will be high enough if the men who earn it aren’t free. “Rich Men North of Richmond,” like populism itself, is about control, not wages.

You don’t need a college degree to understand what’s happening in our country.

Oliver Anthony, the Virginia songwriter and singer behind the viral hit “Rich Men North of Richmond,” didn’t even finish high school. But his song is the most intelligent political commentary of the year. [The viral song debuted Monday at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.]

That’s because there are two parts to it, though most critics and many admirers have picked up only on one.

The song isn’t simply a class-war complaint. The trouble with the rich men north of Richmond isn’t that they’re rich; it’s that “they all just wanna have total control/Wanna know what you think, wanna know what you do.”

Anthony, real name Christopher Anthony Lunsford, is a throwback to the folk libertarianism that gave us the American Revolution.

There’s a social and spiritual level to the song beyond its obvious economics.

Maybe that’s easy to miss because Anthony’s biography, which he summarizes on Facebook, sounds like something Hollywood would dream up for a working-class troubadour.

He lives in a trailer in Farmville, Virginia.

He cracked his skull working in a North Carolina paper mill, spent six months unemployed, plunged into depression, and tried to drown his suffering in alcohol.

And he can really sing: “Rich Men North of Richmond” has poignant lyrics, but its appeal lies as much in the simple catchiness of its sound, and Anthony’s voice puts autotuned pop stars to shame.

It would make a great movie, but Anthony’s life shouldn’t be reduced to a caricature, and neither should the message of his song.

Look at the first verse: “Overtime hours for bulls— pay” is the line that catches everyone’s attention.

Read More

Scroll to top