In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of Labor Day, we’re picking songs about work.
Okkervil River, “Singer Songwriter” (2008)
The guitars that open “Singer Songwriter” are a bit misleading—their jangly notes suggest the subsequent tale will be, in keeping with a prevalent country-music theme, one of loss. But this Okkervil River track is actually laden with excess, about one family’s success in the face of overwhelmingly favorable odds. There’s still a lesson woven into the detached observations of the real singer-songwriter, Will Sheff: Unlike money, talent isn’t passed on through generations.
That’s a notion that the subject seems blithely unaware of on this track from 2008’s The Stand Ins, though. The first verse outlines this individual’s lineage—a “great lawyer” for a great-grandfather who spawned a war profiteer. But the aspiring auteur’s parents took a slightly different path in life, while presumably still benefitting from those connections, to become a photographer-cum-director and publicist. The couple then established a kind of cultural dynasty, with an acclaimed author for a daughter and a band manager for a son.
And whether it’s due to being the youngest or just bereft of talent, the third child can’t seem to find a toehold in any particular industry or field of study, having shot a “reversal film in Angkor Wat,” and dabbled in theology. This dilettante hasn’t inherited an aptitude for anything, just a name and money: “You got wealth, you come from wealth / What a bitch they didn’t give you much else.” They have all the trappings of success, but it’s likely been purchased on someone else’s dime than obtained through their own scattered efforts.