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'Rich Men North of Richmond' Ain't Outlaw Country

By Nate Parker | Politics | August 15, 2023 |

By Nate Parker | Politics | August 15, 2023 |


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Country music’s long tradition of anti-establishment ballads gained a new entry last week. Sort of. “Rich Men North of Richmond” by Oliver Anthony hit the conservative blogosphere like a 747. Within a few days, this factory worker and aspiring livestock farmer from Farmville, Virginia was making headlines with his homespun sound and blue-collar cred. I don’t listen to country much anymore, but I like folksy acoustic music as much as any other former farmer. Still, I avoided “Rich Men North of Richmond” as long as I could, because it’s always a good idea to stay away from anything promoted by Dan Bongino and Matt Walsh. But it’s all over social media, and with publications like Rolling Stone chiming in, I finally caved.

Anthony, who’s been sharing his original songs and variable beard length on YouTube for 3 years, would be at home performing in any honky-tonk. He’s pretty good on a guitar and his lyrics, while not precisely profound, work. They’re vague paeans to country life and the good lord, with occasional references to smoking pot and complaints about the wealthy taking more than their share. Had his popularity surged because of “Ain’t Gotta Dollar” or “Rich Man’s Gold” we wouldn’t be here. But the lyrics for “Rich Men North of Richmond” get… weird. And it’s immediately apparent why the Right loves it.

I wish politicians would look out for miners
And not just minors on an island somewhere

I’m genuinely confused. It’s so poorly written that it’s impossible to tell if Anthony is accusing politicians of caring more about child sexual abuse victims than they do miners, or accusing politicians, generally, of being Epstein’s clients. I assume it’s the latter, but it sounds like the former. In an introduction video posted to his YouTube page, Anthony says “One of the worst things a human being can do is take advantage of a child.” That’s fair. “I think I drew the line on being quiet when I started to see that becoming normalized.” That’s not. If he’s not parroting inflammatory rhetoric about trans children being “abused” by parents, therapists, and medical professionals who support them on their journey then I don’t know what he means by “normalized.”

Lord, we got folks in the street, ain’t got nothin’ to eat
And the obese milkin’ welfare

Well, God, if you’re 5-foot-3 and you’re 300 pounds
Taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds
Young men are puttin’ themselves six feet in the ground
‘Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin’ them down

First of all: fudge rounds? That’s weak. At least pick a snack cake people heard of. Second, here’s the thing about good country/folk music; like great comedy, it punches up. It’s about abusive husbands, bad bosses, and terrible working conditions. It’s clear Anthony, who credits Hank Williams Jr. as his major musical influence and sings about getting high, would like to join the outlaw country ranks of Williams, Cash, Jennings, and Coe. He’s channeling Charlie Daniels’ ghost but instead of “Uneasy Rider ‘73,” in which Daniels’ long-haired country boy protagonist matches wits with racist hillbillies in a backwoods dive, he got “Uneasy Rider ‘88,” where a homophobe starts a fight in a gay bar. Anthony calls himself “middle of the road,” politically speaking. But songs about sobriety and good country livin’ didn’t make him a viral sensation. Libs of Tik-Tok adjacent references to child abuse and complaints about poor, fat people did.

I give Anthony some credit; he’s got blue-collar roots, unlike suburbanite Jason Aldean. He appears to be a genuine country boy, not a cosplayer. I’m skeptical of Twitter accusations that “Rich Men North of Richmond” shows a racist, Neo-Confederate mentality rather than a simple dislike of D.C. politics. D.C. is only a 2-hour drive due north. Other Twitter conspiracy theories, like artificially-manipulated single sales and follower counts, seem more likely. Especially since Dan “The Forehead” Bongino admitted one of his media guys was instrumental in its spread.

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But other poor people aren’t to blame for Virginia’s troubles. If Anthony wants to be more than the next conservative flash-in-the-pan destined for an endless slide into NewsMax appearances and Trump campaign stop performances he should recognize that. A Virginian who genuinely cares about his country life should be for environmental regulation and curtailing mining damage to the state’s stunning landscape. He should realize that his neighbors are on welfare because corporations in the area don’t pay livable wages, and that unhealthy food is almost always cheaper than the alternatives. Unfortunately, as I’ve been writing this piece more came to light that makes me doubt Anthony’s authenticity and capability. His social media presence is nearly non-existent, but his public YouTube playlist is mostly Jordan Peterson videos and 9/11 Truther videos blaming the government and Jews. It doesn’t bode well.