guilty pleasure monday: millworker (james taylor)

perfect for labor day.

when i was about 17 or so, i remember one afternoon, putzing around, watching TV. we had recently gotten cable, so i was happily clicking the giant buttons on the big brown cable box (years and years before a little remote would enter my life.) lo and behold, i landed on PBS, which was showing a musical, working, based on the book by the brilliant author studs terkel. i was transfixed; it was one of those moments where i realized that other people were fascinated by the exploration of the lives of people, whether thrilling or mundane. different composers wrote songs for the musical; james taylor contributed three.

but the song that stopped me in my tracks was millworker. in the song, a woman explores her life as a millworker, noting the path that her life took to bring her to that awful boring job. it’s moving in its simplicity, it’s anger, and its poetry. she knows she’s a cog in a tiny corporate machine; she’s resigned to the fact that this is her apparent destiny.

So may I work your mills just as long as I am able
And never meet the man whose name is on the label

(it’s still)me and my machine
For the rest of the morning
And the rest of the afternoon (and on and on and on…)
for the rest of my life

i think it may be the most beautiful song james taylor has ever written.

on this labor day, i am thinking of my friends who have lost their jobs in the past year or so. i am thinking about the difficulties they face; i am thinking of the courage they have been displaying.  i have known so many of these people while i was that TV-watching teen; it pains me to see them struggling, as i feel like they are family to me.

americans let it happen; it was all about the almighty dollar. first, the trend was to take jobs away from more expensive company people — you had to pay them benefits, you know — and then contract those jobs out to others who required no benefits from the company. then, the trend seemed to take the jobs away from those contractors and move the work overseas, where labor is cheaper. eventually, greed sold a lot of people down the river in this country, and it has imploded on itself.

anyone who inherited the mess of the past nine years was bound to hit an uphill struggle. it’s a pity that the President is making efforts to improve the plight of people, and he is being fought every single step of the way. sure, question authority — but this is a time when things are bad and getting worse. these are times when we all need to pull together as a team. while people are wasting time on non-issues (the President’s birth certificate, the President’s ethnicity, etc.), we lose time and traction on trying to improve things. sure, it isn’t nirvana — but some people don’t have the luxury at present to sit and pontificate over bullshit. they need a home; they need food; they need health care.

and they need jobs.

and i’ll leave you with this particularly fine cover of the song by none other than my beloved bruce who, i believe, really makes the song speak for working people everywhere.

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