Red River Valley / Heroes or Victims?

I’ve always loved “Red River Valley.” Last December, I pulled out my banjo and decided to learn it. Now, as a non-musician, and non-singer, I’m presenting you with the best I have to offer. The song is painfully sorrowful, and full of longing. Here I also share what I’ve learned about its history.  Hope you like it.

To hear a version of Red River Valley that may make you cry, look up a performance by Stevie Nicks and Chris Isaak. Back up singers, accordion – the whole deal.



Red River Valley





How To Becum Reeeely Stuupid



Heroes or Victims?

Let’s stop calling grocery clerks, delivery truck drivers, postal workers, and hospital orderlies and janitors “heroes.” Firefighters who run into burning buildings? Yes. I am finding all this “hero” talk to be condescending, disingenuous, and phony. Who is calling all these people heroes? Well, mostly  us well-healed suburbanites who can afford to “work from home” with our white collar jobs.  Yes, these are the people who make our “sheltering in place” possible. But they are not doing this out of service, voluntarily to aid humanity. They have no goddamn choice. That cashier with no 401K, no retirement, no stock portfolio, no healthcare, and three kids in a crowded apartment would, most likely, trade places with you in a heartbeat.

The hypocrisy of all this came clear to me recently with an article in the Atlantic by a cashier at Trader Joe’s, Karleigh Frisbie Brogan.

Cashiers and shelf-stockers and delivery-truck drivers aren’t heroes. They’re victims. To            call them heroes is to justify their exploitation. By praising the blue-collar worker’s public service, the progressive consumer is assuaged of her cognitive dissonance. When the world isn’t falling apart, we know the view of us is usually as faceless, throwaway citizens. The wealthy CEO telling his thousands of employees that they are vital, brave, and noble is a manipulative strategy to keep them churning out profits.

Instead of banging on pots and pans, and calling these victims heroes, how about getting them a living wage (not just a “minimum” wage.) Healthcare. Sick leave. Union representation. Harvard with its $40.9 billion endowment decided the best way to handle all this was to lay off its contract employees. The ensuing uproar caused the school to reconsider. And Harvard is ground zero for progressive thinking?

Maybe the next time the delivery guy comes to the door, or the cashier checks you out, you give them a $20 tip. You can afford it. It would mean more to them than banging on pots and pans.

Let’s keep Voltaire’s quote in mind:

“The comfort of the rich depends on an abundant supply of the poor.”



8 thoughts on “Red River Valley / Heroes or Victims?

  1. Michael Joyce says:

    Rick your talent is sincerity.
    It’s been said that “Love is being yourself.” Your Red River Valley piece shows that!
    Beautifully done.

    Give us some more.


    Michael Joyce

  2. Hal says:

    Yes, it’s easy to blase’ about folks providing “essential services”. But, there are too many of us who live in privileged bubbles and deliver the typical musings of the white wine and brie crowd. Heroes or victims – let’s face it we are all victims one way or another.

    BTW, I think you are ready for some five finger picking!

  3. Mark Shaw says:

    I enjoyed your story and rendition of Red River Valley. I never gave much thought to the words. It always landed as if it belong in the same genre as Home on the Range. You enriched my experience with the story and your picking of the melody and your voicing of the song. Would love to accompany you on my guitar when friends once again gather in homes and parks and restaurants. Until then, keep on plucking.

  4. Susan Page says:

    I’m stunned to learn that the Red River Valley is in Canada! Who would have ever guessed? Of course I always think of cowboys in the great plains, slunk in their saddles at sunset. And I just Googled the Métis people. Fascinating! I love the research and the story, and your brilliant rendition. I’m going to make sure the Grammy people hear it! And your story about the pianist (I adored that movie. She decided to switch to singing in the audition!) And of course it all goes back to your brilliant sax teacher, who really did change your life. Takes me back to the memorable keynote you gave about Fire in the Belly, which as you know, I loved! — Your next book needs to be, How To Enjoy Retirement, although it won’t work for anyone who is not as creative and interest-filled as you are. But you can call it, Let ‘er Rip!!! (Impressive banjo playing. I thought you were still working on the sax!)

    And right on about the grocery clerks.

    Air hug,

  5. Patricia T Green says:

    If I remember there was a performance of a musical play called “Red River Valley” by one of the classes ahead of us at BHS starring Mike Manley, the heart throb of all the girls in Acapella. The story was essentially what you’ve discovered in the ballad. I’ll see if I can find it i one of my old Pods. Couldn’t find it on Google or Wikipedia.

  6. John Warren says:

    Rick, I loved hearing about the back story of Red River Valley, and the rendition that you offered. OK, you might not get a Grammy, and I liked it very much.
    Then, the contrast with the same melody to the disinfectants is hilarious – scary -but funny.

    You are right about PAYNG the heroes a living wage. Yes, we need the medical staff and 1st responders, but I rarely need their services. The hourly workers are the ones that make my day-to-day life possible, and they deserve all the benefits you mentioned.

    Thanks for speaking out on their behalf!

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