Ry Cooder's Fine Soundtrack to American Decline

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/02/2012 10:53:00 AM
Whoa, how I missed this album the first time around I dunno but I guess it's never too late to rectify that error. Never let it be said that this blog doesn't offer you the full panoply of American decline. Oftentimes, the most memorable art and literature doesn't cover success stories but rather demise and decay. Such is the case with that sick joke the American dream. A few months ago I discussed two fine novels that described darkly humorous yet possible scenarios for the future of that benighted land. Now comes the musical accompaniment care of the venerable singer-songwriter Ry Cooder. Most of you probably know him as the driving force behind the Buena Vista Social Club series of recordings with Cuban artists and its accompanying Win Wenders documentary.

This time around, however, our man Ry casts a wry eye to the ills of modern America. I was looking for suggestions on new things to listen to from the entertainment review compilation site Metacritic when I came across his new album Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down. Scoring an average of 92/100, I was intrigued about its songs about, well, American decline. Mostly acoustic numbers, the album's songs echo the heyday of protest songs in the 60s.

The number which has received the most attention thus far is "No Banker Left Behind":

Well the bankers called a meetin', to the White House they went one day
They was going to call on the president, in a quiet and a sociable way
The afternoon was sunny and the weather it was fine
They counted all our money and no banker was left behind

I too enjoy the mock spiritual of "Lord Tell Me Why" in which the singer complains to the man above about the plight of the white man in the 21st century. Indeed, it reminds me of the economic blogosphere: written mostly by the white malestream, there's much b--ching and moaning as the lyric goes about "why a white man ain't worth nuthin' in this world no mo" as if this world revolves around the hang-ups of relatively privileged Anglos. It is bookended by "Dreamer" in which the protagonist has a hankering for the good ole days when the non-whites knew their place in this world: "can you remember trolleys passing by, quiet streets, leafy trees--at twilight time?"

Another good one from so many to choose from is his criticism of the hypocrisy in the migration debate in "Dirty Chateau":

She started life in the lettuce fields
Up in Salinas where the farm work is done
You go streaking by in your automobiles
You don't even know where your lettuce comes from
The short handled hoe it scarred my hands
Tell me why do they love it so
It broke mama down; daddy too
Now I work for you in your dirty chateau

Along the way he predictably tackles those brilliant exercises in nation building in Afghanistan and Iraq, albeit with a jaundiced eye. It all ends with Cooder's turnaround on Woody Guthrie where he bleakly states "this land should have been our land" in "No Hard Feelings."

The United States is irreparably broken so I suppose you might as well enjoy its decline instead of quixotically waiting for things to improve. Listen to this album and read those novels I discussed earlier. More honest and perceptive Americans generally understand that things are bad there and will only get worse. At least you know some forms of entertainment are better (not only in the truthfulness department) than others.