A date with a weird number suitable for office small talk
Greetings from Hellberta!
We are all holding on here. This morning I saw the sun rise over the prairies somewhere on the highway between Red Deer and Calgary, and was reminded that the sky looks better here than any other place on the planet.
Our good pod-comrade, Tyler, wrote a first-rate piece for this newsletter about English rock music and modern office life, alongside the regular link roundup and events around the city.
Also! We are 41 bucks per month away from sending out this newsletter twice per month! We’re also pooling our money to buy a grain elevator in rural Saskatchewan, so we can assure you it goes to a good cause. If you want to give us a shout out on your social media or review our podcast on Apple Podcasts, we would appreciate it very much! Special love to the review that calls us “young idiots with no life experience given platform.”
What else is there to say? Take care of each other out there, and enjoy.
Send up a Prayer in my Name:
Elbow's "The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver" and high and low in the modern workplace
I first heard Elbow’s “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” hunched over a workstation deep in the bowels of the University of Calgary’s business school. Maybe the song was recommended to me by a primitive iTunes algorithm, but I can’t really remember. I was desperately trying to finish some mind-numbing marketing project when the first notes kicked in and stopped me dead in my tracks. I listened to it in a way I rarely listen to music now, just sitting there and doing nothing. No scrolling, no cooking, no laundry. Then I played it again, and again, and again.
Something about the song triggered a deep sadness in me that my pre-Marx/Mark Fisher brain couldn’t yet decode. For the following decade I would always find myself coming back to the song. Never in a conscious way though. It would arrive as a mental itch, appearing out of nowhere and not going away until the need was satisfied. Every time I heard it I got that same rush of sadness.
When I listen to it now it is so obvious. If I had bothered to read interviews at the time the album was released in 2008 I could have read lead singer Guy Garvey on BBC Manchester saying this:
"My brother in law met a tower crane driver in a bar who began the night boasting about how well paid he was and how much he loved his job. He ended the night crying into his beer with loneliness. Ambition, if pursued to the cost of everything else, can leave you high, dry and lonely."
Everyone who has had a job “downtown”, bestowed upon them as a gift for attending class for four or five years, has had many versions of this conversation. It may not have involved boasting or crying exactly, but it was probably in a bar and the plot is the same. “I am so lucky to have Job. Job pays me fairly. Job is right fit for me. Boss is good. Job friend is getting married in Aruba. Job gave me a quarter zip sweater with a tastefully placed logo. Job gave us pizza lunch. My role? Hard to explain. Job pays the bills. I love Job.”
Then comes Sunday night. You are filled with dread for the upcoming week. You pray to the Job God that your meetings all get cancelled. Job week starts. It is usually Wednesday when it the second part of the conversation happens, but no one else is listening, it is just you and your thoughts. “I hate Job. Job sucks. Boss is rude and mean. Hourly wage is actually pretty bad when you add in all the overtime. Why does Job even exist? It is meaningless. This pizza sucks. Bad quarter, no raise. I don’t care about John’s new whisper-quiet garage door opener. $20 for a baby gift. Skipping Friday work drinks again.”
So much of modern work is filled with this contradiction. We are outwardly thankful and inwardly desperate for change or some sense of meaning. Capitalism has us right where it wants us - confused and afraid. We can’t quit because we have to pay the rent or the mortgage and the job market is (always) tight. We can’t coast because the job demands we move up the ladder or be made redundant. Asking for a raise? No can do, because John over here just graduated and will do your work better for less money. We can’t work too hard because our relationships suffer and the stress affects our health. Millions stuck in the same trap, everyone telling each other how lucky they are.
Like most of the best songs, “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” contains lyrics that don’t seem to mean much of anything when read on the page. Guy’s lyrics are imbued with meaning by the droning strings, the sparse drums and the repetitive guitar plucks. It starts slowly with Guy’s gentle vocals floating on top of the music. The lyrics seem sad, but it is a latent sadness, not quite at the surface yet. Just as it seems like we are building to something we are interrupted by a beautiful, melancholy string and guitar arrangement, as if the song stopped to daydream of a different life, a life on the other side of the pale blue office building glass. Then the drums build up again and you are sucked back into real life. Guy’s vocals are different now. Stronger, gruff, but tinged with longing. The lyrics seem desperate “I must have been working the ropes, when your hand slipped from mine”. A bad dream that you need to wake up from. Everything builds to a crescendo. “Send up a prayer in my name” still makes my hair stand on end (is there a choir deep in the mix? I swear I hear one). The song is gospel now. Dramatic and gothic with big waves of sound and rolling thunder drums. Ironic songwriting is very hard to do, but I think the sadness that the line “They say I’m on top of my game” is delivered with is perfect. Then just as you thought all this anger was going somewhere (“I QUIT”) it fades away. The song ends.
This track still haunts me a decade later. It still evokes an essential aspect of modern life and work better than any other song I know. Loneliness. Maybe not the real loneliness at the top of a tower crane, but the unreal loneliness of a big office tower. Glued to an uncomfortable chair, staring at a fuzzy monitor pretending to do a bullshit job, surrounded by thousands doing the same.
Naheed Nenshi, the aging centrist triangulator and future president of the Calgary Flames Foundation, who beat his city to death with a shovel he bought with capital projects funds, says politicians shouldn’t take Calgarians for granted because they’re free-thinkers who might not vote for the federal Conservatives. His fascinating brain gets more astonishing with age.
Our very own pod-comrade, Joël, wrote a superb piece in Canadian Dimension about politicizing nature in order to fight eco-fascism.
A fellow Calgarian set a real bar for praxis this month and NOBODY is talking about it. Except us. Please scroll down to contribute to our Patreon.
The rightward turn of Postmedia papers won’t surprise any of our Alberta readers, but delving into the full story is definitely worth your time.
Learn a little bit more about the busiest safe consumption site in North America. You have until September 30 to fill out a survey about supervised consumption sites, and to tell our government that drug users are our friends, family and neighbours, and that supervised consumption sites save lives. This is especially pressing as SCS town hall in Red Deer recently devolved into a forum on whether letting drug users just die on the street was moral and/or fiscally expedient.
Alberta is filled with homeless people. It is also brimming with empty homes. No, I don’t see anything wrong with both being true, why do you ask?
Edmonton brings us a perfect metaphor for austerity policies - a beleaguered morgue aching for space rents an air-conditioned trailer to store excess corpses. Rage at this creativity is being focused on the operators, not the government that necessitated this quick fix. Iconic!
The UCP method for fighting climate genocide is modeled after that noble bird, the ostrich.
There’s no current teachers on the panel rewriting Alberta’s curriculum, but there are Koch-funded U.S. researchers! The cool thing about living in Alberta right now is that if I woke up tomorrow morning and read that the entire public school system was being sold to Suncor for a dollar, it wouldn’t even surprise me.
One surefire way to eliminate oversight for the police is to make sure the department you made to oversee the police is running at or over capacity at all times, forever.
We’ve released three podcasts since our last newsletter — an interview with Dr. Shane Gunster about extractive populism in Canada, a full-length episode designed to make your conservative uncle mad about the 1972 Quebec General Strike, and an interview with Trevor Harrison from the Parkland Institute about Alberta’s revenue problem.
There’s two big labour stories south of the 49th parallel right now — one is a fairly nontraditional labour story about NCAA athletes in California, the other is that nearly 50,000 UAW members are currently striking against GM. As always, up the workers and down with the bosses.
Friend of the podcast James Wilt wrote a wonderful article in Briarpatch about how activists in Winnipeg are organizing to stop the carceral creep of security screenings at Winnipeg’s downtown library.
(Extremely Jen Gerson voice) Maybe Doug Ford won’t be so bad after all.
The thing is that some people own the means of production and some people don’t.
We should all be reading more Ursula Le Guin.
Portugal is a key target of the far right.
Neoliberal health care leaves craters when the profits dry up.
Never, ever let anyone tell you that deplatforming isn’t awesome fun, and effective.
Watching climate change from the top of the world.
For-profit drug rehab is a scam.
Surprise! Marshall Plan capital imperialism was a disaster for everyone involved except capitalists.
Utah uses triple the amount of fresh water per person than the national average because they love building mansions in the middle of the god damned desert.
White people with healing crystals contribute to staggering human rights abuses.
On October 10, public sector workers in Alberta are holding an information picket at Peter Lougheed Centre, 3500 26 Ave NE, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., in defense of our collective bargaining rights and public services. This picket will be two days after the legislature reconvenes on October 8, so it’s super important to show public sector workers in Alberta that we have their back.
David Bright will present “Calgary 1919: The Limits of Labour Revisited” on October 3 at 1PM. This is a public lecture and will be held in the Ideas Lounge in the Riddell Library at Mount Royal University. There is no associated event link but you can see some related information from a sister event in Edmonton at this link.