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Rich Men North of Richmond Strikes a Chord

August 28, 2023

“Going viral” seems to be the thing to do these days to gain one’s 15 minutes (or more) of fame. In the case of Oliver Anthony, the unassuming young man apparently didn’t plan for the deluge of followers who have viewed his rough but straight-from-the-heart song of lament and despair.

There’s something about the lyrics and the passion with which they’re sung that can grab you, and I completely understand why Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” has caught fire on the internet. He has a way to go before becoming his generation’s Bob Dylan, but his song has a “Blowin’ in the Wind” feel to it – lyrics that make you stop and think about where we are versus where we could be. And in this time of instant fame that the online world makes possible, he could get to Dylan-like status quicker than we can imagine.

When Anthony posted a self-profile to Facebook recently, we gained some insight into what makes him tick and why he was compelled to write the song. It clearly wasn’t just about his own circumstances, as bleak as they may be. He believes he’s speaking (and singing) for thousands, maybe even millions of others who are experiencing the same lament – a government that no longer cares about them except to exercise control, that has made life more difficult via inflation, stilted economic growth, and, as Anthony puts it, “BS pay.”  To sum it up, there is resentment of those who work their butts off for low pay and can barely subsist while watching others collect welfare from the working people’s taxes.

It's easy to poke fun at Anthony’s rather amateurish musical skills – at first blush, the song’s melody is a very simple composition of basic chords that a beginning guitarist could handle, and his voice is little more than a plaintive yell, almost annoying if it wasn’t for the power of the words he’s singing. (An aside: There’s a live audience version out on YouTube that is better quality, since he has a buddy on stage with him who plays a mean guitar.) But millions of hits on social media indicate a major attraction to the message, and Anthony claimed that he turned down an offer of $8 million from a record company recently. You don’t get such offers unless you’re resonating with a large crowd out there. 

The question is, why? Why is Anthony’s message connecting with so many people now? By the way, just since I started writing this article, Anthony has three other songs in the I-Tunes “top 10.”  So he’s not going to be only a one-hit wonder, and his other tunes are finding a large audience also.

I’m not set up to do person-on-the-street interviews, but I think it would be instructive for us to flash back to 2019 for a moment to answer that question. Remember, the good old days before COVID-19 when the economy was humming, we as a nation were energy independent, and people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, races, and orientations were seeing their real wages rise. There’s nothing like a good economy to bolster spirits and tamp down some of the divisiveness that has plagued us for so long. If you take away the constant harassment of the president during that time, then 2019 was a pretty good year.  

Let’s face it – Donald Trump’s overwhelming lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination is not just about MAGA people digging in their heels due to the unfairness of multiple indictments. Instead, what his lead should tell us is that none of the other candidates has yet to reach the people in “flyover country” with a message as compelling as Trump’s was in 2016 – and apparently still is now. That is, if the Oliver Anthony phenomenon is any indication.

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