Songs About Neoliberalism

Thirty years ago you told them that they are a fungible commodity. You dumped monkeys, rats and snakes into their beds. You drugged them with corn, sold them brittle plastic trinkets, blew off their legs overseas and liberated their women’s gutter impulses.

Neoliberals like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher shouldered the burden of delivering their respective nations from the devil as they understood him and the fruits of the work that they began are all around us.

The songs below show the impact points of tradition colliding with neoliberal progress. In one of the posted videos, a Welsh mining community protests Thatcher’s closing of coal mines with slogans “Coal, Not Dole.” Think about how those three words metonymize the proper function of a national government. In another song’s intro, young Indiana farmers explain to John Mellenkamp’s video crew that another loan is just another bill to pay and that there has to be another solution:

I think the politicians are playing games with us. It doesn’t cost them anything to change the rule, you know, embargo another country.

In these songs, we see what neoliberalism looked like at the beginning of its ascent three decades ago, its arc a rainbow with someone’s pot of gold at the end of it.

These songs or their videos render the disorientation of people who don’t know what is happening to them. They aren’t privy to the things that we in the current year know. But they also remind us of things that we had forgotten over the past thirty years so rather than playing them for nostalgia, let’s listen or watch for what to reclaim as the system exhausts itself and lets go.

Here are the songs:

Industry. Bruce Springsteen “My Hometown” — Bookended by the speaker’s own arc of life from childhood to fatherhood, the song is a witness to an American town’s ruin caused by racial integration and loss of manufacturing jobs. There was nothing you could do. Except pack a U-Haul. Before they emigrate, he tells his son “This is your hometown.”

Mining. Manic Street Preachers “An Anthem for a Lost Cause” — The video is a personal story amidst the Welsh “Coal, Not Dole” protests. Music itself begins at 1:50.  I am giving the video’s feminist subplot a pass because it is not essential to the story. Also, the song and the video are beautifully made.

Farming. John Mellencamp “Rain on the Scarecrow” — Was there another way? The world changes, new generations want new things, but people still need to eat and there will always be folks who want to work their own land. Yet thirty years ago it was decided that small farmers are to be phased out.

Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm
I grew up like my daddy did, my grandpa cleared this land
When I was five I walked the fence while grandpa held my hand

And son I’m just sorry there’s no legacy for you now.

Government. Ministry “N.W.O.” — The lyrics… they kick in near the end and deliver the payload. What I get from that song, other than an appreciation for its dulcimer whimsy, is a natural harmonic of its riffs with the silent pulse that’s awakening in us now in the terminal days of this neoliberal rainbow of mud.