Well crafted music lyrics are full of philosophy and subjectivity. Reflecting on them leads to interesting insights, discussions, and disagreements.
Like many people, I came across little hints about financial independence while obsessed with artistic works in my youth (long before I ever heard about “retiring early”).
Numerous artists throughout history have implemented the power of frugality as a necessary vehicle to their dreams. While not exactly FI, I’m sure many of them would have been on board with the idea.
Other modern artists have come right out and made blatant statements about the role of money in their lives or in the world. The song Money by Pink Floyd is an obvious example of this... because, well... money is right in the title.
The songs I'll discuss today are a little less obvious.
I Didn't Find Out About FI From Blogs
While on a dog walk recently, I listened to The Business Behind Art by Kristin Wong on Optimal Business Daily, causing me to think even more about the notion of artistic freedom via getting my financial head on straight.
I was inspired to look through popular songs of my youth and put together lyrics that helped me form an idea about the kind of relationship I wanted as an adult with my expenses and my income.
I was reflecting on these lyrics long before the concept of FI entered my life. As you will see, they functioned as a true gateway to artistic number crunching.
How about you? Other than blogs, what do you think really introduced you to the concept of financial freedom?
1. Ants Marching by the Dave Matthews Band
He wakes up in the morning
Does his teeth bite to eat and he's rolling
Never changes a thing
The week ends the week begins…
Regardless of whether you like this song or not, ants are amazing for their sophisticated social structure. The metaphor used here is pretty effective for communicating thoughts about modern society; traffic jams, people in major metropolitan areas operating like ants, and a nameless man bored with his life.
Take these chances
Place them in a box until a quieter time
Lights down, you up and die
Contemplating death in order to wake up to a greater reality has never been presented in such a euphemistic funky way. Listening to this song at the pool as a kid was probably my first introduction to a "seize-the-day philosophy" that eventually morphed into the pursuit of financial independence.
2. Can’t Tell Me Nothing by Kayne West
What kind of well-rounded folk musician would I be if I didn’t bring up good ol’ Kayne?
Pink polo shirts, $300 jeans, SUV Tahoes…. sometimes Kayne’s songs are a ridiculous blur of things I genuinely don’t want.
However, you can’t deny the power of his conviction in this masterpiece. He wants to add some zero’s to his check in order to create a world where no one can tell him what to do. However, he realizes there are some personal desires and hard hurdles to overcome before he can make freedom a reality.
I had a dream I could buy my way to heaven
When I awoke, I spent that on a necklace
I genuinely feel sorry for him here. He has succinctly described quite a nightmare.
But the chorus eventually comes to offer a boost of much-needed self-confidence and self-control:
Wait till I get my money right
Then you can't tell me nothing, right?
Excuse me, is you saying something?
Uh, uh, you can't tell me nothing (ha, ha!)
Later on in the song, Kayne digs deep for another line of wisdom:
This is my life homie, you decide yours
Keep up that personal reflection Kayne...
3. Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads
Everyday life can be downright surreal. David Byrne knows what you feel like on a busy day:
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself
Well, how did I get here?
I heard this song when I was younger and didn’t really “get it.” One day as an adult I was driving a large company vehicle when this song came on the radio. It finally made sense. How did I get here? Who is driving this thing? After dropping off the keys, I came home from a long day of meetings to see my house, my husband, and my smiling son waiting for me. This song makes me want to dream bigger (in a good way). As in...if this can happen, what else good can happen?
Letting the days go by...
4. Hunger Strike by Temple of the Dog
I don't mind stealin' bread
From the mouths of decadence
But I can't feed on the powerless
When my cup's already overfilled
I saw this song’s music video in a hotel as a young child on vacation in LA. We only had 3 channels back in Iowa, so MTV with actual music was a real treat.
I thought Chris Cornell and Pearl Jam were going duck hunting. Bread crumbs, waterfowl, and hunger…. It all made sense.
With age, I started wondering what the word “decadence” meant and realized my initial impression about the song…. was completely wrong.
It appears this song communicates a message about not capitalizing on the misfortune of others. For example, don’t buy sweatshop clothes or inadvertently support child labor. Instead, buy used when you can and vote with your dollar. Then the song suggests, if all other approaches fail, plenty of movements throughout history have introduced us to the power of "the strike."
At the same time, this song suggests there’s nothing wrong with getting paid what you’re worth when working for or with companies that are loaded. Hold out when needed. Cha-ching!
5. Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
Maybe you'll get a replacement
There's plenty like me to be found
Mongrels who ain't got a penny
Sniffing for tidbits like you on the ground
It’s good to realize we can all be replaced. It’s rightfully humbling and often keeps our self-importance in perspective. However, it’s even better to realize you are OK with being replaced because you wish to do simple tasks of your choice after having gathered a pretty penny.
So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can't plant me in your penthouse
I'm going back to my plow
Even having grown up on a farm, I can only identify with this song to a certain degree. I think I would go back to something other than plowing.
6. Extraordinary Machine by Fiona Apple
I certainly haven't been shopping for any new shoes
And I certainly haven't been spreading myself around
I still only travel by foot, and by foot it's a slow climb
But I'm good at being uncomfortable, so
I can't stop changing all the time
Fiona speaks to my soul! I haven’t been shopping for any new shoes either. I also seek out situations that are uncomfortable on purpose. She offers inadvertent comfort along the way while reminding us to turn painful situations into something useful.
7. Tomorrow by Silver Chair
You say that money isn't everything
But I'd like to see you live without it
You think you can keep on going living like a king
But I strongly doubt it
Teenage angst with an inadvertent message about retirement? That’s right up my alley! We have to plan for tomorrow. Sometimes it’s painful to watch other people not thinking about the future as they live beyond their means, but if you are going to tell them about it, you should probably do it in a cryptic song. Thanks, Daniel Johns!
8. Working Class Hero by John Lennon
When they've tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can't really function you're so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be
This song takes analysis paralysis and condenses it into a powerful jab. How many of you felt overwhelmed while choosing a career path? I certainly did, although I think equating it with torture is a little dramatic.
There's room at the top they're telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
A working class hero is something to be
This is a dark generalization. I don’t want to assume striving upwards means automatic harm to the world. However, if you feel like you are faking smiles or faking your way through the day, this song has a blunt message.
9. Time by Pink Floyd
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way…
I don’t know about you, but I’ve wasted hours of my life thinking and obsessing about things that would sound absolutely pointless or insane if said out loud. Songs like this function as an alarm bell of thoughtful meditation, bringing what’s important back into focus.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun
David Gilmour must know a thing or two about investing. These lines clearly apply to the power of compound interest and investments (whether he meant them to or not). We've all heard about the power of starting to invest in your 20s instead of your 30s...
Also, after turning 30, I've found I can start thinking in terms of decades now. As in, my husband and I have been together well over ⅓ of our lives and WE CAN THINK IN TERMS OF DECADES. As we get older, we want each of these decades to add meaning and not subtract meaning. We want time to work for us. In order to do that, I love analyzing the idea of the “starting gun.” I think a “shot” of sharp repetitive thoughts coming from within are there to tell you whether you are on the “right track” or on the “wrong track” as you run run run run.
10. Society by Jerry Hannan (made famous by Eddie Vedder on the soundtrack Into the Wild)
This song wins the ultimate FI award. Christopher McCandless wanted to skip out on pointless elements of the adult societal super game, so he ditched his social security card and headed to Alaska. This was a pretty extreme approach to freedom, making FI look like a much saner option.
It's a mystery to me
We have a greed
With which we have agreed
You think you have to want
More than you need
Until you have it all you won't be free
Society, you're a crazy breed
I hope you're not lonely without me
When you want more than you have
You think you need
And when you think more than you want
Your thoughts begin to bleed
I think I need to find a bigger place
'Cause when you have more than you think
You need more space
There's those thinking more or less less is more
But if less is more how you keeping score?
Means for every point you make
Your level drops
Kinda like it's starting from the top
You can't do that
Society, have mercy on me
I hope you're not angry if I disagree
In other words, “hedonistic adaptation” and “lifestyle inflation” don’t sound nice in a song. Social pressure keeps us belonging to part of a tribe (and for eons, this psychological mechanism kept us alive). In the modern world, these ancient rules don’t apply in the same way and we have to use critical thinking to override them.
Bonus Local Musician Spotlight: Hero by Lissie
This amazing musician moved from LA to the Midwest to obtain herself a 40-acre farm and a simpler life. My husband Adam helped her remodel her house and design some garden beds. She is working on getting her bee farm going as well! I hope to make it to some campfires at her place this summer as she continues to establish a new and beautiful lifestyle here.
Check out her awesome lyrics (and song):
I could've been a hero, I could've been a zero
Could've been all these things
I could've been nothing, I could've been bluffing
Could've been all these things
And if I am unable, tell him that I'll try
But underneath the table
I will spin the wheel and hope for gold
What do you think? Am I reading too far into things? Did these songs have elements of financial independence?
Can you think of any other songs addressing the concept in an obvious (or not so obvious) way?