I haven’t written in ages as I have struggled with what is going on and trying to put down in words what hangs out in my brain. In my own life, I find so much meaning by listening and dissecting music. So the other day, I found myself heading to Phoenix and I decided I haven’t listened to Don Henley in a long while. So I fired up my iPhone and I just so happened to have several Henley albums on my iTunes. Wow, I was overcome with how relevant his lyrics are in many of his songs but one song beat them all: “If Dirt Were Dollars”. The song is from his End of The Innocence album released in 1989.
As I was driving, it occurred to me that Henley has a gift of being able to articulate what many overlook. When the album was released, homelessness had become a major social issue. Henley starts out “If Dirt Were Dollars” writing about an interaction with a homeless man. It’s classic. I get this but I’ll let Don tell the story.
Walkin’ like a millionaire
Smilin’ like a king
He leaned his shopping cart against the wall
He said, “I been a lot of places
And I seen a lot of things
But, sonny, I seen one thing that beats ’em all
I was flyin’ back from Lubbock
I saw Jesus on the plane…or maybe it was Elvis
You know, they kinda look the same
Hey, look out, Junior, you’re steppin’ on my bed”
I said, “I don’t see nothin”
He just glared at me and said,
If dirt were dollars
I wouldn’t worry anymore
Now think about this. This song is from ’89 and somethings just haven’t changed and in fact maybe they have gotten worse. When you look at the underemployed employment rate and you realize that in Arizona, it is one of the toughest places to find a 40 hour a week full-time job according to the latest reports from the Department of Labor.
Driving through Phoenix is almost driving an obstacle course with the large number of people living out on the street and at one time they only visible on freeway entrance ways but now they are literally at every major street corner and some are fighting for space on those corners. In my way of thinking there is a major disconnect with how well the economy is allegedly doing and what is reality.
Henley wasn’t done exposing the hypocrisy of what what was going on. He closes the song with a bitter worldly view of the press and politics. He nails its and 27 years later it still rings true and is as fresh sounding today as it was in ’89.
We got the bully pulpit
And the poisoned pen
We got a press no better
Than the public men
This brave new world
Gone bad again
God’s finest little creatures
Looking brave and strong
Whistling past the graveyard
Nothing can go wrong
Quoting from the scriptures
With patriotic tears
We got the same old men
With the same old fears
Standing at attention
Wrapped in stars and stripes
They hear the phantom drummers
And the nonexistent pipes
These days the buck stops nowhere
No one takes the blame
But evil is still evil In anybody’s name
I just love the bitterness in Don’s word. How many do you know that are quoting from the scriptures with patriotic tears, yeh they are the same old men (women) who are spreading their fears. Yep these days the buck stops nowhere and no one takes the blame, but evil is still evil in anybody’s name. That is so, so true. We have got to remember that evil is still evil.
If you haven’t ever heard the song, it’s a good one.
Fastforward to 2016 and those lyrics are as meaningful today as they were in 1989 and I would argue even more descriptive of what’s happening right now.
Just some thoughts from a crazy man as I find sanity in the simplest of places, music. Today it was a dark one in my own world view and seriously Henley’s lyrics are screaming at me. Tomorrow might just be the end of the innocence but really if dirt were dollars, I wouldn’t worry anymore.