Everything Is Relative

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Virtue

“Virtue is relative at best
There’s nothing worse than a sunset
When you’re driving due west”

“And I know that sometimes
All I can see is how I feel
Like the whole world is on
The other side of
A dirty windshield”

Up Up Up Up Up UP by Ani DiFranco

 

I Will Get There

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Walk Beside Me

“Put one foot in front of the other
Steppin into the here and now
I’m not sure just where I’m goin
but I will get there anyhow”

“I got this far with no direction
Followed my nose to where I stand
My heart’s still strong, I know I’ll make it
Sit right down in the promised land”

“People come and walk beside me, until our pathways do divide
Nothin much but love to give you, even less have I to hide”

Here and Now by Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott

War Is Never Cheap

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Beat The Devil’s Tattoo

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“Your soul is able
Death is all you cradle
Sleepin’ on the nails
There’s nowhere left to fall
You have admired
Every man desires
Everyone is king
When there’s no one left to pawn”

“There is no peace here
War is never cheap dear
Love will never meet here
It just gets sold for parts
You cannot fight it
All the world denies it
Open up your eyelids
Let your demons run”

Beat The Devil’s Tattoo on Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Gold Diggers Survive

I have a love-hate relationship with this song: Fancy from the album Rumor Has It by Reba McEntire.

Fancy was a big hit in 1990. During that year, I was a poverty survivor working insane hours at multiple jobs while going to college. The lyrics do not tell my story (per se) but they touched on something within my own experience.

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“She said here’s your chance Fancy don’t let me down
Here’s your one chance Fancy don’t let me down
Lord forgive me for what I do, but if you want out
Well it’s up to you
Now don’t let me down you better start movin’ uptown”

Every time I hear this song play, I want to turn it into a personal theme song or a Poverty Survivor anthem because of lyrics like this:

“I knew what I had to do but I made myself this solemn vow
That I’s gonna be a lady someday
Though I don’t know when or how
I couldn’t see spending the rest of my life
With my head hung down in shame you know
I might have been born just plain white trash
But Fancy was my name”

Good strong words, but they are taken out of context. Context is important. This song tells the story of a young woman who is handed over to a pimp because her mother was poor, sick and desperate to find a way for her daughter to survive:

“Then I saw the tears wellin’ up in her troubled eyes
When she started to speak
She looked at our pitiful shack
And then she looked at me and took a ragged breath
She said your Pa’s run off and I’m real sick
And the baby’s gonna starve to death.”

But, in the end, Fancy not only gets out of a life of prostitution, she becomes extremely wealthy and famous. How? She finds several rich men who like what she has to offer.

“It wasn’t very long after a benevolent man
Took me off the street
And one week later I was pourin’ his tea
In a five room hotel suite”

“I charmed a king, a congressman
And an occasional aristocrat
Then I got me a Georgia mansion
And an elegant New York townhouse flat
I ain’t done bad”

The story describes a young woman who is physically attractive and blessed with a personality that is both subservient enough to ‘pour tea’ and outgoing/entertaining/manipulative enough to ‘charm a king, a congressman and an occasional aristocrat.’ She literally serves, entertains and flatters her way into the right bedrooms and, therefore, is able to both survive and thrive.

This is complete fiction. Under the ownership of a pimp, human trafficker or abusive boyfriend (taking a cut off of her earnings), it would have required the intervention of the police and/or an act of God to get her off the streets.

This is destructive fiction. This is one of the fatal contradictions inherent in the definition of Deserving Poor utilized here in the United States – a common fable passed around by Hollywood, television, romance novels and politicians. It’s disturbing just how many people actually believe it is factual, common and proof that women who don’t land rich husbands ‘deserve’ the punishment of poverty. Specifically: if you want to get out of poverty, you must land the right man. Girls who ‘work it’ are the ones who succeed – the rest are just lazy and worthless. Worse…those who get pregnant, raped or otherwise suffer less than ideal consequences are ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’ who deserve nothing better than prostitution and single-parenting-on-welfare.

Street Feminism. If you’ve ever wondered why feminism is not popular among poor women, take a good hard look at what it takes to survive and what is expected of the Deserving Poor. These lyrics and this music video provide an excellent illustration of the reality of poverty for women – a reality which feminism, in its current manifestation, does nothing to address. Sadly, many upper-class feminists actively (aggressively) support this fantasy and the Deserving Poor fiction that goes with it – through their actions. Your theories and opinions are nothing if your actions contradict those words. Why does this happen? Because class and classism overshadows solidarity and negatively affects the feminist community.

Which brings me to the next point…

Real life in the United States. Entirely too many people (particularly children, teenagers, and young adults) are desperately poor and/or homeless in the United States. They need reasonable and easily accessible options, not fairy tales that essentially glorify an ideal that, in reality, guarantees a life of sexual slavery.

“Now in this world there’s a lot of self-righteous hypocrites
That would call me bad
And criticize Mama for turning me out
No matter how little we had”

This is a bit of truth. Self-righteous hypocrites calling poverty survivors ‘bad’ (and many other things that are far worse) because they have the audacity to survive poverty. So many things about this story are wrong….just plain wrong….because they accurately portray reality for entirely too many people (including the complications stemming from popular misconceptions). This last bit of nastiness is no exception.

Poverty survivors have a right to live. They do not owe anyone an explanation, excuse or apology for refusing to die (no matter how inconvenient that reality may be to select groups of people). Those who are lucky enough to leave poverty deserve respect, not nasty attempts at degradation, public humiliation, and slander. Slander which can, and often does, negatively affects social standing and employment – thereby sending survivors right back into poverty.

Yeah, this song strikes a chord. It grabs hold of my anger and frustration about the lack of real change in the areas of poverty and homelessness and plays those emotions like an instrument.

To her credit, Reba McEntire’s video for Fancy ends with the main character opening a home for runaways. It’s an excellent video. I just wish the lyrical story were more realistic.

Music Nobody Would Hear

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Home

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“Could feel the sun about to rise
When I realized we had nothing to fear
It’s just me and my daddy and a kid named Cope
Making music that nobody would hear
And then the sun let up and it split the night
Spilling over our jubilee
Ten thousand cars by the side of the road
Grooving far as the eye can see”

Carencro by Marc Broussard

Remember Who You Are

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Keep It Loose

“Well I walked over the bridge
Into the city where I live,
And I saw my old landlord.
Well we both said hello,
There was no where else to go,
‘cuz his rent I couldn’t afford.”

“But sometimes,
We forget what we got,
Who we are.
Or who we are not.
I think we gotta chance,
To make it right.”

Amos Lee by Amos Lee

Don’t Let It Get You Down

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Bilgewater

“if the sun was always shining and our load always light we’d be shaking like a leaf with every God given night and we’d break under the weight of any pressure that was ever applied”

“will you be ready when the straw boss calls? he’s got an ever loving bone to pick with one and all don’t let his condescension get you down just have the strength to know you’re wrong and when you’re right the strength to stand your ground”

Salt for Salt by Brown Bird

Not Pretty, Not Angry, Just Honest

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Not A Pretty Girl

“I am not a pretty girl
That is not what I do
I ain’t no damsel in distress
And I don’t need to be rescued”

“I am not an angry girl
But it seems like I’ve got everyone fooled
Every time I say something
They find hard to hear
They chalk it up to my anger
And never to their own fear
And imagine you’re a girl
Just trying to finally come clean
Knowing full well they’d prefer
You were dirty and smiling”

Not A Pretty Girl by Ani DiFranco

Don’t Make Me Say It

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You Can’t Treat Me That Way

“You’ve got a woman who knows her worth
And ain’t prepared to compromise it
You better listen you better make it better
But don’t make me say
You can’t treat me that way”

Kate Earl by Kate Earl

 

Finally Arrived

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Muddy Waters

You can run but you can’t hide
What’s done in darkness will be brought to the light

We’re heading out to the promised land
And all you got to do is take your stand”

“Go and put up your hands and fight
You know that something ain’t right
Been waiting half your life
And that day has finally arrived”

Hold On by Gospel Whiskey Runners