"$$$$" is a rather old song. Part of the Read Music - Speak Spanish collection from Conor Oberst's then side project from his Bright Eyes days, Desaparecidos, one of several punk rock anthems railing against corporate greed and American consumerism, not quite reaching the heights of "The Happiest Place on Earth" or "Survival of the Fittest", but still a good song, a solid song towards the end of 10-song album (international version) that to this day still finds its way on my playlists, some 14 years after the February 2002 release, right at the height of my Bright Eyes fandom.
I’m overflowing with ambition but I got to keep in mind
That the bottom line ... is the dollar signs ... and the big bright lights
Inequality franchised, the next location is mine
Earnest, yes. Conor was never one to hide meanings in elliptical lyrics, but something about the straightforward attack with the hard rock base works on me, it always works on me, some 14 years later. I was driving home from LaGuardia the other night when I heard this song, on a weeknight, after midnight, my flight from Chicago delayed an hour or two and my return from my fourth straight week in Iowa delayed a bit, until landing at close to midnight in another state and having to drive home, go to sleep, wake up and start it all over again. At least the traffic was light.
Desaparecidos returned from a decade-long hiatus after their one and only album with a couple new blistering tracks and a small fall tour in 2012 that would extend into the new year, when I got to see them in January 2013, for three straight dates -- at Asbury Park, Philly and New York. The first night was at the famed Stone Pony in Asbury and at the time I was still living in South Brunswick, and I was suffering through the hell that had been two years of toe pain and surgeries and dozens of doctors and pills all to ease a pain that was finally going away, at that time, for reasons that had nothing to do with traditional medicine and everything to do with mental pain. On that weeknight in January at the Stone Pony, Joyce Manor opened -- I'd never heard of them and they were awesome -- and after three shows of seeing them I became a massive fan, so when Desaparecidos came on, me and the surprisingly young crowd were in full frothing excitement and the mosh pit started almost at once. I don't remember if I moshed that first night, I don't remember the state of my toe and the pain (but I know it wasn't great) and I don't remember the order of the songs that they played, but I remember "$$$$", I remember barely recognizing it -- having spent the intervening decade post Read Music - Speak Spanish focused more on the classics I loved than that track, but in the second crescendo, toward the close of the song, when Conor screams out in desperation "it's the dollar signs" the whole crowd chanted as one and I remember getting lost in the sound, lost in the moment, fully alive again and hopeful again for an excitement that had left me after two years of toe pain.
So the irony wasn't lost on me, 3 years later, when $$$$ came onto my iPhone shuffle while I was driving home from the airport after midnight on a weeknight for work instead of driving home after midnight from a concert, and I started screaming out in frustration at Conor's crescendo, for I have become the American consumerist he was decrying:
It’s the dollar signs and the big bright lights
Inequality franchised, every location is mine
You just do your part, form a line
Let's march under the golden arch
March, march, march, march
Since at least late September, my life has been an endless loop of work / fly / work / travel / write / work / pay rent / work / sick / sleep / Christmas yay! / write a little / work some more. After 2 1/2 years of joy in Hoboken that followed my move from South Brunswick, the cost of living here has caught up with my savings and coincided with a booming economy that has sent my consulting company's business booming and kept me full of work for all of 2015, more hours than I'd ever done before (and I don't think I was exactly slacking before), all in for a big bonus at the end of the year just to afford paying an expensive rent so I could live in a nice apartment right by NYC and ... never get to go to all the concerts I want to because I"m away all the time for work. I texted my friend Katie the previous week while I was Uber-ing home from LaGuardia (flight back from Iowa through Chicago to Newark got canceled so I had to fly back to LaGuardia, Uber home and then take 38 trains to get my car from Newark airport the next day, a Saturday) but anyway, I mentioned to Katie how sad it was that I was riding through Manhattan for the first time in weeks, in the back seat of an Uber. It's enough. I don't know what to do about it but it's enough. There's no point in working so hard to make more money just to afford living somewhere great but you don't have any time to enjoy it, there's never enough time, because you're working 50 and 60 hour weeks just to make more money and start it all over again. I hate capitalism right now (go Bernie!) and I realize these are fully 100% white people problems and I shouldn't be bitching that I don't get enough time to spend in my beautiful Hoboken apartment while others are working 50 and 60 hour weeks just to feed their families, but we're all on the same loop, and it's all an American capitalist dream that never ever gets fulfilled, unless you're in the top 1%. Maybe not even then. They say that the "Happiest Places on Earth" are in Sweden or other northern European socialist democracies, where people care for one another and it's not all about money but that's not here, that's not here at all. It's frustrating, and I'm frustrated, but the next day I went to lower Manhattan for a couple drinks and some food with Katie and other friend Laura and it was great, just peaceful and great, and we all bitched about our jobs and then we ate and I didn't care how much it cost, I needed a break, I was awakened with a call from a vendor the next morning at 8 am and I was back on the track working all day.
This blog belongs to Bill Elenbark.
Lover of songs. Writer of wrongs.