Tuesday, April 30, 2019

X – "The Have Nots" (1982)

Here we sit
A shot and a beer
After another hard-earned day

I was never a shot-and-a-beer kind of guy.  I was more of a beer-and-another-beer kind of a guy.  (Then another beer, and then maybe a couple of more beers.)

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The first line of the chorus of today’s featured song is “Dawn comes soon enough for the working class.”  Ain’t that the truth, bub!

Dawn came soon enough for me when I was a college student and had a succession of summer jobs that started at seven o’clock every morning – unloading trucks, unloading rail cars, driving a water truck on a road construction job . . . you get the picture.

Dawn comes even sooner if you’ve been up until all hours the night before drinking beer at Nina’s Green Parrot in, Galena, Kansas – where it was legal for 18-year-olds to imbibe 3.2% beer.  

The late lamented Nina’s Green Parrot bar
Legally, 3.2% beer was considered to be a non-intoxicating beverage, but let me assure you that if you drink enough – I usually drank two quarts in the bar, and got a tallboy can to go for the drive back home – it does the job.

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I didn’t grow up poor, but almost.  My family had enough to take care of the necessities, but there was no money for luxuries like fancy restaurant meals or vacation trips.  

My parents grew up during the Great Depression, and their families were poor – especially my father’s family.  (My father’s father died in 1934, when he was only 38 years old.  He left behind a widow and eight children – ages 15, 14, 12, 11, 9, 6, 3, and 6 months. )

I don’t think my mother – whose family lived on a farm in northwest Arkansas – had it quite as bad.  But the early part of her life was difficult.  (Her mother got pregnant when she was only 16.  She and my mother’s father were married a few months before my mother was born in 1926, but he died in an influenza epidemic before her first birthday.)

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I’ve always been fascinated by books about people living on the margins of homelessness and hunger.  George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London is one such book.

Orwell moved to from London to Paris in 1928, when he was 25.  His economic situation started to become difficult when became seriously ill the next year and couldn’t work.  Then a young woman he picked up and brought back to his lodgings stole his money. 

To get through periods of unemployment, Orwell had to pawn his clothes.  For example, he would pawn his overcoat for a few francs when spring arrived, hoping that he would be able to accumulate enough money to redeem the coat before cold weather returned.

He eventually got a job in a restaurant, working almost eighteen hours a day, seven days a week to earn a pittance of a salary.

Orwell was so poor that he only owned one pair of black socks.  He applied bootblack to his feet so the bare skin wouldn’t show through the holes.

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“The Have Nots,” which was released on X’s third studio album (Under the Big Black Sun) in 1982, is about blue-collar types – perhaps unemployed, or perhaps making just enough to get by on – who spend too much time and money in bars.

We’re talking about the kind of regulars who spend so much time drinking that they not only know the barmaids by name, but who play cards with them when the bar isn’t busy.  

(Come to think of it, a friend and I used to play cards at the house where the two cousins – one male, one female – who were bartenders at our regular Kansas bar lived after that bar closed at midnight.  But I was a college student, and the dead-end summer jobs I had would last only a couple of months before it was time to go back to school.  My life was nothing like George Orwell’s.) 

“The Have Nots” is notable for its recitation of the names of a number of dive bars in Los Angeles and elsewhere – most of which have been closed for years.

For example, there’s the One-Eyed Jack, and the Hi-D-Hi, G. G.’s Cozy Corner, the Stop & Drink, the Get Down Lounge, and a Detroit joint called The Aorta Bar – which called itself “Detroit’s Main Vein.”

One final note about “The Have Nots.”  The last line of the song’s chorus – “This is the game that moves as you play” – is the epigraph to the precocious Bret Easton Ellis’s first novel, Less Than Zero.  (Ellis was a 21-year-old college student when his novel was published in 1985.)   

The title of Less Than Zero was taken from Elvis Costello’s famous 1977 song. 

Click here to listen to the “The Have Nots,” which I usually listen to several times in succession when it comes up on my iPod.  It’s just that good, boys and girls.

And click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon: 

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