We’re all working so hard on legal work right now in mid-winter cold and darkness that I thought it’d be fun to write something subversive. Maybe you’re at your breaking point and need a little musical inspiration to convince you to permanently log off of Quicklaw, hand in your security pass and make a break for truth and enlightenment? Here is a list of songs about getting back to the roots or “going country.”
Think nice thoughts for the rest of us eh!
Honk, High in the Middle
This song is from the soundtrack to the 1972 surf movie “Five Summer Stories” by Greg McGillivray and Jim Freeman. The following subversive lyrics are sung to the equally subversive sounds of the lap steel guitar.
I’ve been staying high in the middle with an honest to goodness hey diddle diddle
I traded my Porsche for a cow and a fiddle too
My train of thought reached an intersection
Got switched on to a new direction
Now I’m here to spread the infection to you
Lay down your woes
Open what’s closed
It all will flow if you let it go
Get up in the morning at the crack of dawn
Jump in the water roll around on the lawn
It’s really fine having only what I want going on
Toiling for so long
Fenced by fear of what I’m told is wrong
I’ve found a hole in the fence
Now I’ve jumped right through and I’m saying that you can too
McGillivray and Freeman’s movie is beautiful, and captures the spirit of the North Shore of Oahu in the late 60s well-enough to blow the hardiest of law-bound minds away. If you haven’t figured it out, the surfer on the movie poster, by surf artist Rick Griffin, is offering you a bar of wax. After Griffin died in a motorcycle accident in 1991, Grateful Dead lead Jerry Garcia said of him, “Rick, like the rest of us, was on a mission to turn on the world.” What’s your mission counsel?
Smashmouth, All Star
If visions of rural Hawaii in the late 60s aren’t enough to get you motivated, let’s try a message that may shock you from your current 9 to 5 reality. Remember this catchy hit from 1999? Lead singer Steve Harwell would argue that every piece of legal Mumbo Jumbo you jam into your brain takes you further away from the Truth.
Somebody once asked could I spare some change for gas
I need to get myself away from this place
I said yep what a concept
I could use a little fuel myself
And we could all use a little change
Well the years start coming and they don’t stop coming
Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running
Didn’t make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb
So much to do so much to see
So what’s wrong with taking the back streets
You’ll never know if you don’t go
You’ll never shine if you don’t glow
Don’t get any more dumb than you are already. Stop this legal nonsense right away and go for it!
Old Man Leudecke, I quit my job
After motivation, comes action. And, of course, there are many songs about the act of quitting. Nova Scotia banjo man Old Man Leudecke doesn’t glorify it, but rather, talks about quitting to reap the rewards of hand-to-mouth living.
Work when you need to maybe.
Don’t let em bleed you baby
They do nothing more than feed you baby
Don’t let em take the joy that you make
On your own
I have a friend who spent some time on Maui between jobs (as did I, if you want to call it “between jobs”). He always speaks about a conversation he overheard in Paia Town in which one local asked another, “You got work?” in a completely non-judgmental way. It struck him how the work-life values in an alternative first world subculture could be so more liberating than those in our own legal subculture. It’s often not our work that’s so draining, but what work becomes about.
The Who, Going Mobile
Lifehouse was a Pete Townshend project so grandiose that it was scrubbed when it became clear that Townshend couldn’t meet his own ambitions. Going Mobile is from Lifehouse, but oddly, is a simple song about driving around without a care. Apparently Townshend liked to go for such drives in between bouts of genius.
I can pull up by the curb
I can make it on the road
I can stop in any street
And talk with people that we meet
Keep me movin’
Out in the woods
Or in the city
It’s all the same to me
When I’m drivin’ free, the world’s my home
When I’m mobile
Isn’t it time to give your own genius a break? Don’t you love the freedom of the road?
Joni Mitchell, Carey
If you don’t go mobile when you give up the law, you’ll need accommodation. How about living in a cave on a Mediterranean island? Wikipedia says this song, from Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue, is about time she spent with a cave-dwelling hippie community in the village of Matala on the Greek island of Crete. She sings:
Come on down to the Mermaid Cafe and I will buy you a bottle of wine
And we’ll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down
Let’s have a round for these freaks and these soldiers
A round for these friends of mine
Let’s have another round for the bright red devil
Who keeps me in this tourist town
Come on, Carey, get out your cane
I’ll put on some silver
Oh you’re a mean old Daddy, but I like you
Billable hour be dammed! The sense of freedom conveyed by this song is palpable. So what about the dirty fingernails? Go for it!
Neil Young, Country Home
Okay, maybe you’re in for accommodation that is a little more sublime. The imagery from Neil Young’s Country Home might get you going.
I don’t like to go down to flats
‘Cause I can’t park on a hill
Instead getting a rolling start
I have to pay the bill.
I guess I need that city life
It sure has lots of style
But pretty soon it wears me out
And I have to think to smile.
I’m thankful for my country home
It gives me peace of mind
Somewhere I can walk alone
And leave myself behind.
Young himself has lived on his Broken Arrow Ranch for many years. Country Home is from Ragged Glory, most of which he recorded in a barn on the property. Glory received critical acclaim and went gold in Canada, which speaks to the real opportunity of country living for Type-A lawyers. Country living and a virtual law practice on the down-low sound okay? You don’t even have to admit to your neighbors that you’re a lawyer!
Blotto, I wanna be a lifeguard
Or, alternatively, think of all the great other vocations in which you might engage. Your taught understanding of risk management is certain to help you land a lifeguard job, which according to 1980s punk band Blotto, is better than working in a shoe store.
I, I, I wanna be a lifeguard (help, help, help, help)
I, I, I wanna guard your life
I, I, I wanna be a lifeguard (lifeguard, lifeguard)
Yes, yes, yes. So much better than document review!
U2, Beautiful Day
This is a good song to end with, because it conveys the most simple and universal spiritual message. A Zen proverb says “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.” English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes – The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” Bono preaches a similar message to a soul in need of savior:
It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
It’s a beautiful day
U2 performed Beautiful Day at the first Super Bowl after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Barack Obama also used it in his presidential campaign. It’s a good song, powerful in its simple message.
Postscript. Subversive enough? If I didn’t convince you to make a break for the good life, I’ve at least caused a moment of distraction and a warm thought. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work!