In “Rich Men North Of Richmond,” folk-country singer-songwriter Oliver Anthony provides a haunting, bittersweet lamentation for an America that existed not too long ago but may never exist again. The new single is currently experiencing widespread acclaim online.
Anthony’s song depicts a deep yearning to return to a version of America in which people were not plagued by existential economic and cultural woes every moment of every day.
After all, Americans across the board are enduring a deep, existential pain. This ceaseless, throbbing ache brought about by innumerable woes spread throughout the nation — rampant economic insecurity, government corruption, cultural freefall, and anarcho-tyranny, just to name a few — characterizes our shared experience more than anything else possibly could.
Suicide rates and overdose deaths continue to increase; lawlessness, unaccountability, and corruption run amuck; economic conditions continue to rapidly worsen; and our culture is in an undeniable state of freefall while our life expectancies continue to decline.
The only people who are able to escape this agony are those who can afford to insulate themselves from the reality the rest of us face — the wealthy elites, the rich men north of Richmond, Va., who make decisions that affect the rest of our lives.
Frankly, there is very little reason for people to be optimistic, and this is central to Anthony’s lament. What reason do people have to keep going?
These rich men are those for whom our institutions and economy and people truly work. The people who keep everything afloat get crushed by the weight of keeping everything afloat, while the rich men and their special interests grow richer and richer and become further detached from the people who actually have skin in the game.
Anthony further discussed this in a video uploaded to his YouTube page. He said, “I know we’re living in dark times, and I know that this is really just the beginning of what’s to come.” His deep empathy for those of us adrift in societal ambivalence was apparent.
“There’s a lot of beautiful people in this world, and I meet a lot of awesome people every day,” said Anthony. “The universal thing I see is that it’s like no matter how hard they push and how much effort they put into whatever it is they’re doing, they just can’t quite get ahead.”
“I had wasted a lot of nights getting high and getting drunk, and I had sort of gotten to a point in my life where even things that I did care about didn’t mean anything to me anymore [but] I found an outlet in this music,” Anthony continued.
“Rich Men North Of Richmond,” according to Anthony, is relatively apolitical. He said, “It seems like both sides serve the same master. And that master is not someone of any good to the people of this country.”
On skyrocketing suicide rates, he said, “Those aren’t problems; those are symptoms of a bigger universal problem, and a lot of people know that. It’s common sense, but we don’t talk about it enough.”
“If you take anything away from me and the music I write, it’s that this life is a beautiful opportunity,” he said. “There is a divine creator that loves you, and sometimes it takes falling down on your knees and getting ready to call things quits before it becomes obvious that he’s there. He’s always there; you just gotta look out for him and listen for him.”
Anthony indicated throughout the video that he wants his music to be a source of hope, not just a series of grievances, and perhaps songs like “Rich Men North Of Richmond” can serve such a function.
The people and places left behind and antagonized by those who live north of Richmond are suffering, but through identifying the sources of this pain, we can begin the healing process.