Songs for the New Depression

Ransom Riggs

)The lyrics to many of his songs read like laments and dirges, but the music is full of defiant hope -- hope in the face of a crushing reality. Suddenly, I can almost relate.

I guess what I'm trying to put forth here is this: Waits' music has always felt both behind the times and ahead of its time -- but now, finally, the world has caught up. Suddenly, this is the music of our times. It's relevant. For instance, every time I check the balance of my IRA account, Rains on Me comes immediately to mind:

In a darker key, Yesterday is Here expresses much the same thing:

If you want money in your pocket and a top hat on your head a hot meal on your table and a blanket on your bed well today's grey skies tomorrow's tears you'll have to wait 'til yesterday is here.

Most economists predict the recession will last well into next year, if not longer. When faced with that kind of news, you have two options: you can give up, or you can dig in -- set your jaw, put your head down and Get Behind the Mule.

Until things improve, we might have to endure a few privations. Missions and soup kitchens are reporting ever-increasing numbers of customers -- many of them first-time assistance-seekers -- and despite crashing retail prices and absurd sales, people have less and less money to spend. "Stores are open, but I ain't go no money," Waits wails in Cold Water:

As they struggle to save themselves from insolvency, retail businesses are offering bargains galore, and doing it in bold print, ever-louder commercials and increasingly desperate street-corner sign-twirlers. Step Right Up!

As dark as things get, though, there will always be optimists. That's what many cable news financial analysts are paid to be: they look for the silver lining, and get us to pay attention by dreaming out loud of a candy-colored future beyond the recession. But the more the bad news drowns them out, the more they sound like pathetic, drunk hobos singing about The Big Rock Candy Mountain:

When I was little, I sometimes found myself wondering fearfully if my family would ever suddenly run out of money one day, and become destitute beggars. As it turned out, I had nothing much to worry about, but I remember how worrying about money -- even in the limited way that a seven-year-old can do so -- was a deeply unsettling thing to me as a kid, even moreso than it is now. With that in mind, if I had kids right now, I'm not sure I'd be totally up front with them about a family financial crisis; what good would that kind of doom-and-gloom do them? Put on a happy face, I say, or their Bedtime Stories may turn into this: