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  • Deborah Straszheim

Songwriting and Jobs from Hell


Before I wrote lyrics, I wrote limericks. One of my favorites was about a friend’s boss (who shall remain nameless) who made unwanted advances in the workplace. Yes, it still happens.

“There once was a flirtatious boss;

Who cared not how he came across;

He made quite a pass,

For a piece of her as-,

But he failed, so that was his loss.”

We laughed heartily. When it comes to nasty workplaces, there’s something distinctly satisfying about venting through non-traditional means. I suspect it’s more productive than the traditional avenue, at least where saving one’s sanity is concerned. I was always of the mind that if a job got to the point that human resources was required, it was time to get a new one. Might as well sing while searching.

So it makes sense that songwriters would choose the workplace as a topic for songs. Yet in the scheme of things, songs about jobs are a relative rarity. There’s the standard, “Take This Job and Shove It,” “9 to 5,” “Frankly, Mr. Shankly,” and “Maggie’s Farm.”

But given the number of people (including managers) who say they hate their jobs (choose your poll), you’d think such songs would be as common as cheating songs.

Yet they aren’t. Why?

I have a theory about this. And it’s that our standards have become so low, that we do not expect to be happy at work. Since we lack this expectation, a miserable workplace doesn’t evoke the emotions or outrage needed to create the drive to write a song. By comparison, you expect your lover to be faithful, your best friend to not betray you, your life to have a purpose. Thus, you are driven to write music when your lover cheats, your friend back stabs you, or you are despondent about your life.

By comparison, if your work is less than satisfying, unless it’s a total hell, you are less likely to write about it because you don’t expect it to be fabulous.

I find this a sad commentary, especially given that we spend so many of our waking hours at work. I suppose there is also the fear that if you pen a song about work, you might turn off a future employer, but I believe this is less a factor than the issue of expectations.

On a related note, I have a friend who jokes about expectations with regard to dating prospects. “I have standards,” she says. “They may be low, but I still have them.”

I see no reason why we can’t apply this to our jobs. I’ve had employers who had me in tears because of their meanness, and more recently, those who made me tear up because of their kindness. Both exist; both are possible. Given this, I see no reason why (while songwriting) we can’t have a job we find meaningful.

So let’s have a little outrage, people.

They Call It a Living ~ Cassie Urbany

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