Let Me Help You Understand 'Rich Men North of Richmond'
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How does it make you feel when you read Love’s Philosophy by British poet Percy Bysshe Shelly? What images run through your mind? “And the moonbeams kiss the sea.” Does your mind conjure a nautical “scene” of listless clouds and gentle waves glimmering in translucent light? Do you feel a sensation in your heart and an urge to relive a moment with a lost love? Whose voice do you hear, yours or Shelly’s? Lord Byron speaks of a woman “who walks in beauty.” When I think of Kipling, I can actually see Tommy soldiers in India; cockneys from Lambeth. I have a soft spot for his poem If. It makes me think of my mother’s funeral and men in my family who will ever hold my admiration. Even writing these few words, my mind is flooded with sentimental emotion. My heart is ticking faster. Poetry moves us, as does great literature, art and music.

If you live on the Upper East Side or Malibu’s Carbon Beach (both places that I like and have recently visited) you may not have any connection to Oliver Anthony or feel the emotion I feel when he sings Rich Men North of Richmond.  The media has labelled his new song America’s “Blue Collar Anthem.” My brother Walter, aka Fat Wally called me 2-3 days after Anthony posted his song on You Tube and said “you gotta hear this song from this boy in Farmville.” Fat Wally is a venture capitalist with a JD and an MBA from a prestigious university, not what the pundits would consider “blue collar.” For those that may not understand the song’s incredible popularity, I think I can help. It’s not some Mikhalkov creation extolling the virtues of a worker’s paradise or socialist utopia.  I have played it 100 times. It is emblematic of issues that frustrate many of us. The only way I can explain it is to probably bore you with the emotions I feel and the images I see. Like Anthony, I am an “old soul,” and I think millions of others are as well.

When I read a poem or one of history’s classic soliloquies, I place myself in the shoes of the narrator. I also personalize the prose by imagining that I am the author. I know about Shelly, his time at Oxford, his romantic escapades, but I also know that I have been enamored by the beauty of a beautiful woman and can instantly feel emotions from experiences that occurred long in the past. History, geography and custom directs my thinking about almost everything. I cannot judge the present without considering the experiences of the past. My perspective is always colored by events that have already happened.

Anthony is from Farmville, Virginia, a place I am well acquainted. Located right smack in the middle of Virginia, it is home to Hampden Sydney College and Longwood University. It’s a very pretty college town, with an old fashioned commercial district. Old buildings galore. It feels as though all the retail establishments are locally owned, where the shopkeeper locks up at the end of the day and walks home through leafy streets and by picket fences.  In Farmville history bubbles out of the ground, and of course like most of Virginia, such ground is soaked with the blood of our ancestors.

Longwood was once an all-girls school. I am itching to tell you the whole story, but in the interest of brevity and staying on point, I will just say, I once outran the cops there. Boys were not supposed to be in the girls’ dorm or for that matter even on campus after a certain hour. If so, the Farmville police would send out a veritable SWAT team to hunt you down, but this story will have to wait until another time.

Later in life, I owned a business that had a location in Farmville. I did some real estate deals there too. One day, I had some time to kill. There was a large and very impressive neo-classical, Roman temple looking bank building downtown. I walked in, introduced myself and asked to see the president, merely to introduce myself. I had no idea his name or who he was, I just thought it would be good manners to do so. I was led to a very spacious and attractive office where I met Mr. Jack Lee. He was a gracious and delightful gentleman of the first degree, and we chatted for a long time. In Virginia, upon meeting a stranger, at some point the two conversationalists try and figure out if they know each other’s people. After about an hour of chatting, Mr. Lee asked if Max Smith was my uncle and mentioned that they had gone to Episcopal High School together. He then stated “you must be Marston’s boy.” I figured out that his niece and nephew who grew up in Charlottesville were friends of mine. We chatted some more and then as if he was asking me if I wanted a Coke, he asked if I wanted to borrow any money. Being a “deal addict” at the time, I thought sure, why not. He then pulled a note out of his desk and filled it out for a not insignificant amount.  There was no credit check, and I had not produced any financial statements. Being an old soul, I often reminisce about those days, that was the Virginia way. We never locked our doors growing up. Keys were always left in cars. We did business on a handshake, and one aspired to be a gentleman like Jack Lee. I think Anthony’s song touches upon feelings of frustration that we don’t live this way anymore. 

Last year I went to Mr. Whitlock’s funeral in Farmville. I had done some business with his family. Mr. W was one of those old school courtly gentlemen. During his last year, he had dementia, but he never forgot his manners, polite and gracious until the end. I hate seeing these guys go, there are less of them now and we are all poorer for it. The church was on a beautiful, absolutely gorgeous street. As is the custom here, there were people from all walks of life. Day laborers who likely did not own a suit to doctors and lawyers, black and white, all the people one’s life touches in a small town and often in a big city too.  I had a great time talking to everyone, and as I drove back to Richmond, I was just plain proud to be a Virginian. To have a day out of the city and into the “real” Virginia replenished me.

The Battle of Sailor’s Creek occurred just outside of Farmville, 3 days before Appomattox. As I mentioned, I can’t put anything in context without considering the past. I’ve often thought how sad it was that men died so close to the end of hostilities, but have always marveled at the bravery of these ordinary soldiers, many from Farmville. The War was clearly over, our boys were surrounded and starving, but they did their duty.  Crutchfield’s forces even attacked the Union lines. Impetuous, but certainly brave. Oliver Anthony looks like a Confederate soldier and is likely from the same stock of the brave men who fought that day. 25% of Lee’s army was captured, and what your illiterate college professor does not know is many Union and Confederate soldiers hugged each other on the battlefield that day.  Think about it, an hour earlier they were killing each other. Noble men, real men, men with valor. They began the great reconciliation towards national unity after horrible bloodshed. My anger towards the Washington elites, who have none of the noble qualities of these combatants knows no end. These spineless worms, rich men north of Richmond do everything they can to divide us and spread fear, while good men practice Christian love and forgiveness. Fu#k you Washington! The song instills this sentiment in me.

There are many stories from April 6, 1865. I have friends who had ancestors die that day. One story that I think is very apropos to Anthony’s song goes as follows. On April 7th, a union officer was riding by a house in Farmville where he sees a man who looks like a southern combatant dressed in civilian clothes. He was with his whole family who had not seen in years. The officer asked him if he was a combatant and the name of his unit. He knew if he told the truth, he would be carried off to Point Lookout and could well die of starvation and disease. He told the truth and indeed did go to the death factory that was Point Lookout.  I knows tons of Oliver Anthonys and if I had to explain to you what they are like, the first words that I would say is: “They don’t lie.”

Washington is full of sniveling little crooked shits, who make a living by fu#king up honest people’s lives; telling people who don’t lie what to do and how to live. I think the reason the song is so wildly popular as some sort or political or social anthem is it speaks to the frustrations of old souls who still live by the old rules of honesty, hard work and helping others. It is a song for those that are self-sustaining who merely want the sniveling little shit class off of their back. To me, I think of those guys who did their duty with valor and didn’t ask anything in return. They recovered from the hardships of war, went back to Farmville and lived a hardworking and noble life without any bitterness. To think that “rich men north of Richmond” think they are better and more enlightened than these people gets my dander up!

And who are these rich men north of Richmond? One started a worldwide virus. For the love of money, he prevented people from Farmville (and everywhere else) from taking prophylactics that would have saved their lives. In violation of the Nuremberg Code, he forced millions to take an experimental drug that has permanently damaged and killed huge numbers of people. Not only is this man not in jail, but he and dozens of others are getting rich via pharmaceutical royalty checks. There is another guy who has sold his country out for money. He’s a traitor.  He’s also a pervert. His family members are despicable. Not all are men, Victoria Nuland and her neo-con cronies in the State Department have caused the deaths of approximately 400,000 young men in Ukraine and Russia, yet defense contractors are getting rich, and big investment funds have huge equity positions in these defense firms. There’s an FBI director who weaponized the FBI, turning it into a Gestapo organization which terrorizes its political enemies. He’s retired now, but despite lying to Congress and leaking documents to the New York Times, he’s on tour getting rich. Cars and trucks and gas cost more because of dimwitted fat shits like Al Gore. He has made over $1 billion spreading fear and hurting people. There’s an army of lying sleaze bags north of Richmond, all protecting one another, passing oppressive laws and regulations that help themselves but punish the hard working, the honest and the enterprising. They are slimy and smug. “They don’t think you know, but I know that you do.”

The Oliver Anthonys are smarter than the Victoria Nulands. They don’t take showers with their daughters, and they don’t lie. “It’s a damn shame what the world’s gotten to.” The wokeness, the crime, the abdication of responsibility and the lack of common sense. That’s what the song is about. Malevolent psychopaths are ruining our country and our culture, instead of the “old souls” that could make everything better.

That’s my take, I think I am right, but I realize that art moves people in different ways.  Dear Reader, I am anxious to hear how the song speaks to you and the emotions it stirs within you and why.


Robert C. Smith is Managing Partner of Chartwell Capital Advisors and likes to opine on the Rob Is Right Podcast and Webpage.

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