Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Covering The Working Life:
Songs About Day Jobs (From Those Who Don't Have Them)



Ever since I chose teaching as a career, Labor Day has been doubly relevant for me: an annual return to the classroom-as-job-site marked by a national holiday in celebration of the organized workplace.

This year, however, after leaving a teaching position that just wasn't working out, and subsequently spending the summer carrying hope from one interview to the next, I find myself in a bit of limbo. Which is to say: for the first time in over a decade, Labor Day looms, and I don't have plans to be anywhere the day after.

The game's not over yet -- I've got two interviews tomorrow, in fact, and both seem promising. But the joy that I should have been feeling as we put my daughter on the bus for her first day of first grade today was tempered by uncertainty, and it's been hard to put it aside to take on the next few drafts down the line.

In the name of killing the jinx, then, and because I really should get to bed sooner than usual in order to be prepared, today's coversongs channel our complex package of cultural conceits about work: having it, hating it, needing it, loving it, and leaving it.

Don't let the size of today's list scare you, folks: huge and topically sprawling, it is nonetheless a carefully-selected and winnowed-down set of my favorites, from the crazed old-timey house party of Springsteen's take on Pay Me My Money Down to the driving, countrified folk rock production Melissa McClelland brings to Springsteen's own Factory, and from the delicate, precious indie retropop of Ephemera's Manic Monday to Richie Havens' surprisingly powerful treatment of John Lennon's Working Class Hero.

There's something for everyone today; after all, we all have to pay the bills somehow. So whether you prefer the slow barrelhouse bluegrass of Alison Krauss covering Dolly Parton's 9 to 5 or the radio-ready bluesfolk of Mark Knopfler's unfortunately named side project The Notting Hillbillies, Joshua James' quiet solo acoustic Modest Mouse cover or Jeb Loy Nichol's atmospheric hi-hat driven electro reggaefolk, the pulsing popfolk of Leslie King's Pink Floyd cover, the twangfolk of Peter Case doing Merle Haggard, or the true blue bluegrass of Salamander Crossing and Tim O'Brien, enjoy them all, and wish me luck at the interview table.



Of course, today's list would be sorely incomplete without my favorite John Hartford song. If you missed 'em the first time around, head back in time for a look at two great takes on In Tall Buildings, a perfect, bittersweet song of white collar life and lost summer, from Gillian Welch and The Jones Street Boys.

Oh, and as always: if you like what you hear here on Cover Lay Down, please consider purchasing CDs and other merch from the artists we feature. After all, if it weren't for our patronage, the music makers would be out of a job, too.

ADDENDUM 10:05 pm: Seems the jinx-breaking worked -- after a whirlwind day, I have accepted a teaching gig for next year! Thanks to all for the good thoughts and crossed fingers...

22 comments:

Ruralgurl said...

Here's to gainful employment, double edged sword that it is. Break a leg!

Darren said...

That's a great list. One excellent addition is the Cowboy Junkies' lovely a capella version of "Mining for Gold". Drop me an email (darren at darrenbarefoot dot com) if you'd like a copy.

FiL said...

Best of luck on the interviews!

Urban Gypsy said...

WHAT A PHENOMENAL MIX! I enjoyed it immensely, and I sure can relate... I just graduated from college and I'm heartbroken because this is the first September without fresh school supplies for me :( Good luck with the interviews and all the best to you! :D

A Free Man said...

Love that Notting Hillbillies track! This is an appropriate post for me as I struggle my way through work today!

Matt said...

Best of luck on the job front, from someone that just last week broke a six month "un-working" streak. The right gig will come to you.

Owyn said...

Congrats on the new job. Hope it will meet the needs of your heart and your mind.

April said...

Pay Me My Money Down in Springsteen at his best, in my opinion.

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