Big Boss Man

To those who have suggested I write a song about my HugeCorp Blues:

JimmyI refer you to Jimmy Reed, who recorded this Al Smith/Willie Dixon composition 46 years ago. Click the little blue button to hear the song.

Jimmy was born in Mississippi in 1925 and was working in a meat packing plant in Indiana when he started making records in the forties. When I think about working that kind of a gig, I can only smile at my own job-related angst.

The blues got Jimmy out of meat packing, and he actually became a pretty big star in the fifties and sixties. He drank too much, though, and he left this world in 1976. If this song sounds familiar to you, it may be because his music has been copied by everybody in the business for the past forty years.

I can hear you, Jimmy.


Big boss man, can‘t you hear me when I call
Big boss man, can‘t you hear me when I call
Well, you ain‘t so big, you‘re just tall, that‘s all

Got me working, boss man, working ’round the clock
I want me a drink of water, but you won’t let Jimmy stop
Big boss man, can’t you hear me when I call?
Well, you ain’t so big, you just tall, that’s all

Well, I‘m gonna get me a bossman, one gonna treat me right
Work hard in the day time, rest easy at night
Big boss man, can‘t you hear me when I call?
Well, you ain‘t so big, you‘re just tall, that‘s all

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12 Replies to “Big Boss Man”

  1. Yeah, yeah, okay, whatever. I’d argue (and, trust me, I have a whole arsenal or theoretical and retorical arguments available) that the oppression of HugeCorp is different in kind than the oppression about which he wrote.

  2. Emma: You are right!

    I struggled last night, and finally gave up, trying to make the point that it’s also bad, perhaps worse, to witness the stupidity and disrespect and fraud that Jones sees, as opposed to the ordinary, cliched workplace cruelty that some left-wing songwriters imagine.

    Cruelty from the boss is something we expect. The guy in the meat-packing plant may suffer from cruelty, and there might be an element of ho-hum racism, but the cruelty is ordinary, expected, been-there-done-that. We shouldn’t give the singer man “extra credit,” if you will, because of his skin color and his modest occupation.

    I think Jones’s plight is more profound, much more instructive, and more poetically significant.

    I would spew more words, except for the sad and shameful facts that I must go to bed now, so that I can be strong for the white-man, Baby Boomer abuses that I must suffer tomorrow. I humbly submit that my suffering is worse than Jones’s.

    And, Emma, you might appreciate my particular abuses. I am forced to make changes to the printed matter of a magazine that are flat-out, without-a-doubt WRONG. I must misspell words, take out good commas, insert bad commas, and commit other atrocities that make me sick. I sometimes think I am in hell, but can’t remember how I died.

    If I object, the boss accuses me of being an unrealistic perfectionist.
    I have been ordered to do what I am asked. Yet I also know that when the excrement contacts them spinning blades, I will somehow be the one the one who is blamed, on the grounds that I knew better.

    Emma, will you read these magazines and write my boss about how awful the editing is?

  3. Ron – It might.

    Goldie – Of course you’re correct: HugeCorp fucks with me in completely different ways from the way poor Jimmy Reed was mistreated. But I think that Jimmy sums things up rather more nicely, if a bit ungrammatically, when he says “You ain’t so big – you just tall, that’s all.” Jimmy’s voice, harp and guitar strike a universal chord, don’t you think? I’m not sure I could improve on the sentiment, or equal the impact.

    C.B. – My life has been so different from Jimmy’s that there was virtually no chance I would ever end up under the thumb of a Big Boss Man. I may have been poor, but I was white, and I went to college. But while I must decline the Most Abused Employee award, I will concede that workers are abused everywhere and at all levels, that it’s wrong and that workers of the world should unite, although I’m pretty sure they/we won’t, and that if you work with your brain rather than your back, “they” will find ways to fuck with your brain, as they have in my case.

    PS: Exactly what is it you want Emma G. to read? You provide no link or contact info.

  4. I was not of sound mind.

    I recalled a previous Emma entry from which I hopefully concluded that she was an editorette of some sort, and I thought a letter from her might make my Big Boss realize how wrong he has been.

    He would come to me and tearfully apologize for disparaging my opinion. I would get more money and more respect, and all would be good. He would remember what is important: We are both white men, a mere 10 years apart in age, and we share the same alma mater (UCLA — and we were both nerdy types associated with “football spirit”).

    He would come to understand that since the age of 8 he has reflexively hated people smarter than him (he?) and done everything he could to grind them into dust; he would vow that, going forward, he would embrace my vision and wisdom. I would worry about homosexual overtures.

    But I was a fool. I soon realized what would happen after my Big Boss gets Emma’s letter.

    He would get the CFO to search her out on the Internet, and within an hour or two, the conspiracy would be revealed, thanks to Google’s recordation of revision99. I would then be busted and fired.

    For the record, though, the offending magazines are Digital Photographer, Pro Digital Imaging, and Camcorder & Computer Video. Come to think of it, these are wonderful publications, and I take back everything I have said or implied about them not being the best things ever to exist in the realm of published matter.

  5. L: Yeah, I grokked the “You ain’t so big–you just tall, that’s all” line, myself.

    there are so many levels to it all. It isn’t about whose pain is more Worthy, or who is more justified, though sometimes it is. I figured out a long time ago that I didn’t want to get into a competition about pain. what’s more important to me? speaking about the Pain I can see, whether it’s mine or not; speaking about alternatives, when I can see them; reassuring people who cause pain, because they think they have no choice, that they do have a choice; reaching out a hand, when I have the strength, to someone else in pain.

    it’s a small, lost voice in the wilderness, i know, but it’s all I know how to do. you know how to do it, too, and if you can make a song out of it, do that.

    CB, I’ll agree to read one issue of one magazine. but you can’t expect a miracle.

  6. Emma: Thank you for the offer.

    But there’s no hope for my situation, and I am embarrassed to have reached out. For a moment, I was less than the suck-it-up man I should have been.

    One fact of these matters is that a few years ago I got an editor friend of mine to write a wonderful, highly detailed letter about the numerous errors in an article written by one of my company’s star columnists.

    Through a quirk of procedure that I did not interfere with but knew about, his original prose went straight into print — much like e. coli lettuce going into Taco Bell burritos.

    After that letter came to my office, there was a brief flurry of activity during which the honchos tried to learn who the complaining person was. She was found out to be a newswriter for a radio station, and at that point she was dismissed as a crazy liberal perfectionist bitch who didn’t understand the pressures of print.

    What can one do when 23-year-old “editors” order apostrophes to make things plural, as in a sentence such as “Now bring your photo’s into Photoshop” when in the very next paragraph the very same plural noun is not given an apostrophe?

    Here’s what I do: I add the apostrophe. I am a good soldier.

    And I do things like this hundreds of times a month, on the particular magazines I mention.

    At the same time, one of our magazines has the best copy editor I have ever known. The word around the office is that she is autistic, which explains her excellence and her passion. She has been compared to an autistic character on the “All My Children” soap opera. She is criticized as being unfriendly.

    I kid you not. Where I work, excellent performance is considered to be a symtom of a terrible sickness.

    From the time I was 13 years old, I could punctuate and spell better than some of the editors who now work for my company.

    My reward for trying to improve things has been ridicule and retaliation. I am kept because I am good at the various mechanical tasks that go into making magazines — tasks that I have been doing in one way or another for more than 30 years, from the days of hot fucking metal if you can believe it.

    I can make things go smoothly and quickly, but if I question anything about usage and grammar, I have committed an unspeakable offense.

    I have lost sight of why I am going on like this.

    I am trying to sympathize with Jones by referring to my own plight, yet in doing that, I am not being respectful of him. I think there’s something terrible and insidious in how smart people are treated these days, and I think there’s a case to be made that the meat-packing-plant racism of song may not be as bad as the treatment served upon well-meaning, intelligent, long-time, marginally activisit employees.

    I think this bad treatment is widespread across all industries and government bureaucracies of our once-great America, and I think the country is in a serious decline largely on account of this mysterious desire of all organizations to be internally mediocre and friendly, as if we’re all characters in some television sitcom about an office where people like each other and just want to get along.

    Before I have the sense to reread this spew, I shall click Submit Comment.

  7. whats horrible about your job agian? i’ve only visited this site…have you ever read the book “the jungle” about meatpacking and working conditions during this era? companies wouldn’t even stop the machines if a person was injured or a rat, who was poisoned jumped into the grinder… it just went in with the human food. mmm…

    then oh yeah… do you have workmens compensation at your work… because if you do… your probably more lucky then meat packers during this time period… since when they lost an arm or hand… all they received was a firing… no compensation.

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