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  • Writer's pictureThe Rough & Tumble

How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?

On this week's, Double Americana, we're performing a poignant, protest song. "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live," by Blind Alfred Reed was first recorded in 1929, a protest song about the Great Depression, prohibition and the circle of poverty. Blind Alfred Reed was, in fact, born blind as was another sibling. Picking up the fiddle at an early age, he took to it and performed all throughout Virginia and West Virginia, often playing his compositions on street corners for tips. He met some of the right people and ended up on The Bristol Sessions, which were landmark recordings of country and folk music. Scott first became aware of this song through either Ry Cooder, who covered it on a record in 1970, or when Bruce Springsteen did the Seeger Sessions in 2006, although there have been countless others who've found this song to be relevant in their own time and place, including The Rough & Tumble.

If you'll allow us to take this to a personal level, we were thrilled when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010 and the two of us finally had an opportunity to be able to afford health care as musicians working multiple odd jobs in the service industry. It had been a few years of neglecting to go to the doctor until it got really bad and we were excited to have health care again. Turns out when we went to the Marketplace, we couldn't afford the most affordable health care option, which meant that we qualified for government assistance. The problem for us was that we lived in Tennessee and lawmakers there declined to accept federal funding that would have helped those who also couldn't afford the most affordable option.

Now, we're not complaining. We know that there are ways that we could make money, but making music just isn't one of them until you've put a few miles on the car and gained a few fans. We have a great support system of family and friends all across the country who've helped us out when we needed it. And we did need it. And if push came to shove, I'm sure that both of us could find a job, probably something that paid a decent wage since we both have college degrees (student loans be damned). There is a net that would catch us if we fell.

But there are people in the United States who don't have a support system and who might not be able to find a job that could pay a decent wage. Maybe they didn't go to college. Maybe they have a learning disability or just haven't caught a break. I sometimes find myself thinking that if I'm not able to afford health care, what about the people less fortunate than us? And what about their children? We chose this. Not everyone has that luxury.

"Well, the doctor comes around with a face all bright, And he says in a little while you'll be all right. All he gives is a humbug pill, A dose of dope and a great big bill -- Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live?"

I guess the point of this song, and the point of us performing this song is just to say, there are people dying for lack of a government that will help them when it comes to their health care options. There is poverty all around that is not due to laziness or bad choices, but because somebody can make some money off of keeping people poor. Or they think they can save some money if they neglect an entire demographic's right to affordable health care.

How can a poor man stand such times and live?

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