My Five Favorite Songs About My Least Favorite Thing

by Michael Channing

As I write this, I'm at work. Here for the next hour and a half all by my lonesome. The office has two big bay windows which I guess means I have to keep my pants on, but there must be something I can do other than what I'm actually supposed to do. How about listening to music? Or writing? Or writing about music? Oh, oh, I got it. Writing about music about work. I'm on the clock, so technically, I'm getting paid to write this. Professional.

5. "Working Man" by Rush

Rush by Rush (in my cubicle)

I get home at five o'clock, and I take myself out a nice, cold beer
Always seem to be wond'rin' why there's nothin' goin' down here

Pizza delivery wasn't my first job, but it was the first where I could work while listening to my own choice of music. On my first delivery run, I popped in a Rush tape and rocked out to "Working Man" as I drove to a seedy motel. The customer complained that his pizza was late and insisted it should be free because I hadn't gotten it to him in less than thirty minutes. I told him that was indeed the policy of Dominoes but the box he was holding said Pizza Hut. He didn't tip me.

You know what, didn't matter. I was driving, rocking out, eating pizza, and getting paid for it.

"Working Man" kicks ass. It's got this cool bass break that introduces the guitar solo, and the main riff is a monster. It's about working, and I was working. That was enough to pass for irony in the 90s, and I loved it.

But now...

Dear god, that song is about me. Substitute "glass of milk" for "nice cold beer" and that's my life. Except I don't get home at 5:00 to enjoy my beverage of choice, I normally get home at 7:goddamn30. Tonight, I'll get home well after 9:00. It does seem to me I could live my life a lot better than I think I am. An hour's drive to work, an hour back home, an hour at lunch, eight in the cubicle. I'm glad the Michael Channing of the past can't look into the future. He'd see himself getting grey, rocking out to an awesome new Rush album, on his way to a job that doesn't involve wearing a cape, writings books, or even pizza.

4. "Change It Up" by Rollins Band

Get Some Go Again by Rollins Band (in my cubicle)

You say your job is a pain
It's pulling you down the drain
I think you'd rather complain
Than quit it

It's not a terrible job. I've had much worse. I don't have to shovel sand, or grind paint off industrial equipment, or load furniture trucks, or teach high school. But Rollins is right, it's not an adventure, it's a job. But you have to have a job. You gotta pay the bills and feed your family more than just free salt packets from Burger King. Staying is easy; quitting is scary. You know what the world does to people without jobs? It points at them and laughs and gives them wedgies and stuffs them into their lockers. That's what my students did to me when I quit teaching.

Anyway, the point, Mr. Rollins, is that going on adventures isn't going to pay the rent. Besides, my co-workers like me. I have pride of purpose. And sometimes I have the office all to myself to write, watch YouTube, and Photoshop you and me into wacky situations. I don't complain. I got no reason to complain.

I can hear you now: "Don't justify your complacency to me."

Hey, when you were scooping ice cream for a living--sometimes sleeping in the back and showering in the sink--and got the chance to run away with Black Flag, you took it because you were twenty and had nothing to lose. You had the freedom of having nothing. I have a family to plan and protect and provide for. That's why you work in the first place. That's the honor that comes with employment.


3. "Factory" by Bruce Springsteen

Darkness on the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen (in my cubicle)

Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain,
I see my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain,
Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life,
The working, the working, just the working life.

If you make too many demands, ask for raises and sick days and vacation time, your boss will gladly reward you with a pink slip and the generous use of a cardboard box to carry your belongings off the premises. All you have to do is convince him that keeping you on is more costly than training a new worker, and you're out. And you'll have to mail him back the box. So pull that lever, push that button, file those TPS reports. Keep your head, your voice, and your expectations low.

But it'll get to you. Sometimes you feel you're working simply for permission to come to work. You hardly ever see daylight. The kids are starting to wonder who the strange, pale man is that shows up only to tuck them into bed at night. The work takes your time, your health, your life. It doesn't matter if you've been there a month or ten years, every screw up is met with the same disapproving glare. It's enough to make you mad. Mean mad. And you wind up punching more than the clock.

2. "The Factory" by Warren Zevon

Sentimental Hygiene by Warren Zevon (in my cubicle)

I was born in Mechanicsburg
My Daddy worked for Pontiac 'til he got hurt
Now he's on disability
And I got his old job in the factory
Saying, "Yes sir, no sir, yes sir, no sir
Yes sir, no sir"

Employers have ways to keep you subservient. Medical plans, benefits, misplaced community pride. You have a job a trained monkey could do, but because it's the one defining thing in your life, you take pride not only in the work, but in the company that allows you to do it. You pull for Team Texaco no matter how many baby seals they coat in the rendered fat of other, fully grown seals.

It's probably not as prevalent today as it once was, but sons used to follow their fathers into the company, like taking on a family curse. You saw your dad working himself into a gnarled wreck of a human being and think, that's my future and I can't wait. Soon as I'm done with this school bullshit, I'll be making money like a real man. Then I'll get that pension which'll be just enough to pay for my funeral. God bless the factory.

1. "Bell Boy" by The Who

Quadrophenia by The Who (in my cubicle)

The secret to me, it ain't flown like a flag
I carry it behind this bleedin' little badge

Don't judge anyone by his job. He may be at the beck and call of others, always running at someone's heel, but he's nobody's toady. He's surviving. When he's off the clock, he writes poetry, he plays bass, he flings angry paint at canvases, he rages against all kinds of machines. All you see is the suit and tie, the name tag and hair net. There's no such thing as selling out. It's just levels of compromise. Tom Waits did a dog food commercial. Henry Rollins has done several for Infiniti and Verizon. Bill Hicks, who once said, "Watching television is like taking black spray paint in your third eye," wrote and stared in a pilot episode of a series he and a friend tried to develop. We all compromise. You just have to own your compromises. You have to be who you are and not how you want to be seen.

Honorable Mention: "Rocket Man" by Elton John

Honky Chateau by Elton John (in my cubicle)

All this science, I don't understand
It's just my job five days a week

This guy's got the job every eight-year-old dreams of. But to him, it's just a normal Monday to Friday gig. I'm not sure what he does after he clocks out on the weekend and he's still in orbit, but I like to imagine he floats around the rocket in his underwear, trying to pick up a signal from the HBO satellite that's right outside. If he can't enjoy his job, then I don't know if there's any hope for me.

More Ways to Pass the Time at Work

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Chokes and Warbles
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Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing