May 16

“Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough)”: Steve Earle’s Political Song

"Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough)": Steve Earle's Political Song 1
Steve Earle (Photo screen grabbed on Youtube)

Story Behind the Song

In 1981, many families who relied on industrial and manual jobs were affected when the then President Ronald Reagan announced a two-day strike. More than 11,000 air traffic controllers lost their job. As a result, Reagan’s decision had long-term effects. He did not just leave them jobless but also banned them from taking other federal jobs. Since many of the workers were army veterans who had never gone and finished their education, the president’s move was devastating.

Steve Earle knew this story very well because his father and his brother were among those who went jobless after the strike. His father had worked as an air traffic controller for years. Because of this, Earle wrote one of the first political songs of his career,  “Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough).” Basically, it drew inspiration from the incident which affected his family.

I got a job but it ain’t nearly enough 
A twenty thousand dollar pickup truck 
Belongs to me and the bank and some funny talkin’ man from Iran 
I left the service and got a G.I. loan 
I got married bought myself a home 
Now I hang around this one horse town and do the best than I can

It’s gettin’ tough 
Just my luck 
I was born in the land of plenty now there ain’t enough 
Gettin’ cold 
I’ve been told 
Nowadays it just don’t pay to be a good ol’ boy

Creation of the Song

"Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough)": Steve Earle's Political Song 2
Steve Earle’s album cover (Photo screen grabbed on Youtube)

Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough)” was co-written by longtime friend and guitarist Richard Bennett. He explained the story behind:

“The song tells a story of a blue-collar Texan on the verge of financial crisis. In addition, he can’t seem to stop living above his means, even buying a $20,000 pickup truck on credit. His salary isn’t nearly high enough to bail him out. With a family to support, he remains stuck in the “one horse town” that ruined him and looks forward to the weekend, when he can attempt to drink away his problems.”

This Steve Earle song functioned as a critique of Reaganomics, which refers to the economic policies as proposed and promoted by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s.

"Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough)": Steve Earle's Political Song 3
President Ronald Reagan and his concept of Reaganomics (Photo Credits: Wall Street Journal)

On the other hand, Earle also launched a career as an actor several years later and portrayed his character in opposition to the Reaganomics. According to the songwriter himself,

“The politics in a song when you are writing in the first person is the politics of the character, not necessarily the politics of the writer. I’m trying to write about the things I see happening around me and how people react to them, not just the things that happen to me.”

Watch Steve Earle perform “Good Ol’ Boy (Gettin’ Tough)” live in Austin, Texas below:

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Ronald Reagan, Steve Earle

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