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Old Crow Medicine Show: Methamphetamine

“There’s a war out there and it’s fought by poor white men”

I don’t know about where you come from, but over here in Finland drug addiction and drug problems have most often been (at least when I was a kid) described as a predominantly urban problem, something that’s plaguing the cities in particular, not the countryside and the small towns. I don’t know if the situation has changed, probably has, but that’s the implicit understanding I grew up with; and generalizing it to the rest of the world, via popular culture such as movies, books and music, tales of drug addiction usually took place in an urban setting.

Old Crow Medicine Show, a wonderfully old-timey country/folk/americana band from Nashville, Tennessee who still manage to sound modern and relevant today – somebody described them as a pre-war string band meets Nirvana, which sounds accurate to me – shake such conceptions as the above paragraph to smithereens with one striking song. With a distraught, almost pained, Bob Dylanesque-voice, the song takes the listener to a world of poverty and no hope of a better tomorrow, of a world that has changed too fast for the people stuck in the underbelly of it to keep up with the pace… “‘Cause when it’s either the mine or the Kentucky National Guard/I’d rather sell him a line than to be dying in the coal yard”. It’s a stark, striking and honest-sounding account of a disease crippling an already crippled part of society. From the opening verse where “The babies whine ’cause they can’t find nothing to eat/But mama she ain’t hungry no more/She’s waiting for a knock on the trailer door” to the end where you’re instructed “You better watch your back ’cause you just can’t trust a friend/And the method man is going to get you in the end”, it paints a dystopian vision of the rural working class.

There’s not much death mentioned in the song, but nobody who listens to the song and really takes it in can deny that the shadow of death looms in every line of the song, that this song is very much about death and dying; not just individual, corporeal death, but also the death of whole families, societies and maybe even a way of life. The imagery painted in the lyrics, combined with the delivery, are intensive and somehow immediately convincing and credible. Methamphetamine sounds like anthem to the sickly and tortured death of a stratum of society.

The method man is gonna get you in the end.

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