Greenback Dollar

Hoyt Axton Greenback Dollar 45 (Horizon, 1963)
Hoyt Axton with the Chamber Brothers Greenback Dollar 45 (Horizon, 1963)

On Saturday I took a trip to the mall downtown. I hadn't intended on mall shopping, as I hate malls, but my girlfriend Susan had killed some time there on Friday and said that every place was having a sale and not just ten or twenty percent off, but sixty and seventy-five. So, what they hell, if she is up for a walk, I'll head downtown and check things out. I can always use a thermal and some pairs of socks. Maybe I'd find a fancy hat.

The mall in Downtown Sacramento is an indoor/outdoor mall. It is two stories and all but the center strip is covered by roof. Aesthetically it is about as unattractive as pretty much every mall, however the way this one was designed it kind of has the look of a post-modern high security prison, a prison with a giant, rotating Hard Rock Cafe guitar in front of it. Downtown Plaza has never been successful. Though it has had plenty of help from the city in the form of tax breaks and grants, it limps along, year after year turning up at council meetings looking for more public subsidies. The city has yet to accept that suburbanites won't go to downtown to a mall when they can go to exactly the same shops in malls in the 'burbs, that are much closer to where they live. The city thinks things like the Hard Rock Cafe are enough to lure the masses.

Walking to the mall, we passed through the other part of K Street, the downtown portion closed to automobile traffic but not part of the mall. Many, many years ago, this part of K was home to the city's movie houses and lots of local businesses. Not any more. Now there are a spattering of small businesses, some mini-marts, and a handful of fast food joints. There are three theaters on K: The Crest, a beautiful, restored, single-screen movie house; a new live theater; and an IMAX, which is usually pretty empty and also receives taxpayer money in the form of rent subsidies. The IMAX, like the Plaza, are supposed to be valuable economic anchors, which is why they get public money. Of course, their favorite status is not based on merit or performance, but rather some consultant's pitch and the city not wanting to admit that it made a bad decision years ago when it started throwing money at these shit projects. Sacramento's downtown policy is much like Rumsfeld and Iraq, though without tens of thousands of deaths. And though K Street lacks suicide bombers, I bet downtown Baghdad has more business going on than our sad strip. On the way to the mall, we passed on nice clothing store. Two people were in it and they were employees.

Downtown Plaza was also pretty empty, especially when you consider that we were there on the Saturday before Christmas and every store had a sale. We bopped in and out of shops. I got a few shirts for ten bucks a pop, a sweater for not too much more, and a few other things. I think I spent a total of fifty bucks on clothes marked down from $200. It was fifty I wouldn't have spent otherwise so I guess the sales worked on me. But it didn't seem to work for the stores. As noted, they were pretty empty. At 2 pm, prime shopping time, I counted six people including Susan and me (sans workers) in Banana Republic. Six. And the scene wasn't much different at other stores (though when we hoofed it back Midtown and dropped by the bookstore, I was very happy to count twenty-one people, which, at one time, is a lot. Could it be that people are finally taking "Buy Local" seriously?).

This is the season of the Greenback Dollar - or at least it was. People are either being scared or they are being sensible and spending only what they can afford to spend. Many of the people I saw shopping were doing what Susan and I were doing, picking up everyday clothes for ourselves because the prices were right. Back Midtown, people are buying books, so maybe they are being sensible!

About a week ago I was asked to give a talk with my friend Dennis Yudt, at a small alternative movie theater, of "I Need that Record!", a documentary on they death of indie record stores. My take on such things is a bit different than your average lefty. I've run small businesses and know that many of them fail thanks to things they do wrong, as well as shit thrust upon them. I also know that things go in cycles. People buy certain things at certain times of the year. Business slows at different times of the month. One cycle that I don't think economists talk about much, if at all, is one that seems to occur over a longer period of time, years, or even decades. That cycle is support for local businesses and valuing your community by spending your money in your community. As I stated in my talk, when I walk home from the train station, I pass about a dozen coffee shops, a few are Starbucks, the rest are locals. Strolling by each place, I do a quick headcount. Over the past year or so, the number of people at Starbucks has shrunk, while the locals get busier and busier. Are people sick of the sterile, corporate feel of Starbucks? The drop in their sales seems to suggest so. I know Starbucks likes to blame McDonalds and their offering espresso drinks as the reason they are taking a hit, and I am sure that McD's is causing them harm. But what about people rejecting their product because they are sick of the same, chain store crap? Sure, it might be a minority of the population, but a minority can be 25%. Hell, even at ten percent, the numbers are not insignificant.

So what is my point? If you have read enough of my babble, you know I am not a glass half full kinda guy. But I am one to look at a situation and see what I can make of it. I look at the shit economy, people's anxiety over it, people wanting to feel safe and a sense of community. I see how many people were willing to either believe that Obama will help change things to a more people-to-people based society, or if not believe he can at least say "Why the fuck not?" and take a chance on the guy. People come into the store and ask for books on the New Deal. I dunno, maybe the era of the Greenback Dollar is over, at least for a while.

And over though it may be, the song "Greenback Dollar" is still one of the best tunes of American popular music (Ha! How about that segue!). Today, you get three versions of "Greenback Dollar." Two of them are done by the guy who wrote them, the great Hoyt Axton. The first version is him and an unnamed band. It is my favorite. It has a great creeping tempo and some killer guitar work. The second version came out the same year as the first and is a bit different. The tempo jumps and the band backing him is a young Chamber Brothers, back when they were struggling in the folk circuit. The last one is a video clip I found while googling the song title. This one is done by Dick Dale, with Dale on vocals and not guitar. It is a bit punk and Dale has a nice snarl going. The kids love it, most of them probably hip to the Kingston Trio's version, the one which made the top ten.

Have a good Christmas!

Hi Scot,

hugh thanks for a year of rare goodies and many moments of sheer delight

have a very nice X-mas

Nice babble. And I like the unique music too. Thanks for digging it up and sharing it!
I know what you're sayin - I think it's part of the reason for the WalMart backlash. When you drive across country and see the same big box stores, you realize our romantic ideal of the quaint small American town is gone, lost in an enormous concrete parking lot.

Yes, big business baddies like WalMart exploits its workers, drives out small businesses, etc., but it's also a quality of life issue.
yup it is a quality of life issue. it is a lowering of expectations issue, as the big box are emporiums of cheap, ill-made crap and low quality food stuff. it is an architecture issue as big box (and pretty much most large retail buildings including supermarkets) as there is little beauty in a big box store. there is the problem with land/building reuse. what happens when a big box goes under? do the buildings sit vacant like old supermarket buildings sit vacant for decades when they go under? nothing better than a huge vacant building bordering the neighorhood.
People buying books on the New Deal is a positive? the FDR administration is the closest thing America's ever had to fascism...Only when compared to the likes of Hitler and il duce does Roosevelt look like a good guy. (I got my BA from Roosevelt University, so I've heard all your inevitable pro-FDR arguments before). When Obama gives us the "new new deal", will that include the concentration-camps for japanese americans?
"people wanting to feel safe and a sense of community."
Oh, you mean like the Klan?
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