So we had 3 days where we didnt see double digits. Yesterday it got into the teens and of course we finally ran out of porch wood. Brought in the last of the pieces on the back porch and knew I had to dig out the wood pile today, and fill up the porches. So today, bright sunny high 20s (you dont know how good it feels!), and I had a strenuous repetetive outdoor task to do that could either be tedious or fun. Music usually helps. And for some inexplicable reason, I put the Stones' "Salt of the Earth" on repeat and got to work. I never put songs on repeat.

It is a song I am extremely ambivalent about and want to hear people's opinions.

I'm not really a Stones fan and the Birtish Invasion group that most did it for me was the Kinks (assuming the Beatles are a genre unto themselves). And "Salt of the Earth" has always struck me as a facile kind of beer ad patriotism at best, and sneering sarcastic condescension at worst. I hear Keith Richards' opening lyrics as quite earnest:

Lets drink to the hard working people
Lets drink to the lowly of birth
Raise your glass to the good and the evil
Lets drink to the salt of the earth
But when the singing switches to Mick Jagger, I can't help but hear the sneer:
Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his back breaking work
Say a prayer for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth
And when Mick comes to the refrain, it is hard not to hear him saying "look at me rock star on the stage looking down at you all":
And when I search a faceless crowd
A swirling mass of gray and
Black and white
They don't look real to me
In fact, they look so strange
But there is something incredibly sincere about the song as well. Maybe that's what creates my ambivalence, it sounds sincere and sarcastic at the same time. It's a hat tip to the working stiffs who buy their records by a guy who went to the London School of Economics. Something about it reaks of right wing populism, but I cant put my finger on it. Maybe it's here:
Raise your glass to the hard working people
Lets drink to the uncounted heads
Lets think of the wavering millions
Who need leaders but get gamblers instead

Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter
His empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
And a parade of the gray suited grafters
A choice of cancer or polio

An ode to the uncounted wavering non voter, glazed over at entertainments. It's kind of ahead of its time in a "here we are now entertain us" kind of way but maybe only because the cynicism here seems riper than its 1968 release date.

Though the song seems to say people need leaders, something better than grafters who offer disease, it's more like the Stones are mocking elite naive social engineers who believe such. The message I read is "let people smoke and drink for chissakes, working class life is hard enough without high minded calls to right living." This interpretation isnt explicitly in the lyrics though and I may be way off base. I can take this song as emblematic of an attitude that fights seat belt laws and motorcycle helmet laws. But again i know I am putting my own spin on it.

And when I look in the faceless crowd
A swirling mass of grays and
Black and white
They don't look real to me
Or don't they look so strange

Lets drink to the hard working people
Lets think of the lowly of birth
Spare a thought for the rag taggy people
Lets drink to the salt of the earth

Lets drink to the hard working people
Lets drink to the salt of the earth
Lets drink to the two thousand million
Lets think of the humble of birth

I'd love to hear what people think. I know it is a very rich song, brilliant and haunting musically. I could use some help connecting the dots. I must say I did not get sick of it after an hour plus and it did ease my toil. Which is maybe what the Stones are simply saying "here's is our role in the economy, we are one act in the circus that makes life tolerable."

Originally posted to Randolph06 on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 01:02 PM PST.

Also republished by An Ear for Music.


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