In the midst of sweeping piano, crunchy guitars and pleas for today’s youth to emulate Jesus Christ, Workman Song’s “This One’s for the Kids” has beautifully captured the sense of ennui and mania that’s swept our country since last November. Under the guise of an alter-ego, Ruben Smiley, Sean McMahon (aka Workman Song) has been developing an album based around a series of recordings that he compulsively wrote and recorded last September — offering a commentary on the disappointing rush of fake news and decay that seems ever-present in our day to day.
McMahon wrote a piece to explain how Ruben Smiley was born. Enjoy below, and give “This One’s for the Kids” a view above. For a song with such heavy subject matter, the tiny levities in the video are hugely entertaining and endearing. (Oh, and you can also catch Workman Song live next month at Welcome Campers!)
I saw Trump’s election coming. As early as September 2016 I was compulsively recording tunes that eerily prefigured the new world order to come. By about April or May I’d come to such a critical mass of recorded material and restless mania that I took to trolling local open mics and karaoke nights in character as one Ruben Smiley. Ostensibly an acclaimed academic in the field of “bio-economic self-regulation analytics” trying his hand at glam pop, Ruben actually was pathetically groping for a second chance at stardom after his late 90’s heydey with Carlos Santana was cut short by a beef with Jay Z over crystal sculptures in 2006. See attached Vice and Pitchfork articles.
Ruben is a flawed little Percival, a wounded fool oblivious to the obvious visibility of his wounds, and the absurdity of his failures. His new ambition was to be a YouTube sensation, a podcast celebrity, an alt-media tycoon, the next Milo Yiannopoulos, with a dash of sexy Katy Perry, a splash of messianic Bono, a dash of vengeful Beyoncé — to get back at Jay Z.
Yes, I handed out fake news press releases and even some people who generally knew my face around Northampton, MA (my base of operations and a blue city if not full on hammer-and-sickle red) could not see it was me through the opacity of Ruben’s mascara and lipstick, not to mention his highly evolved side-lisp and ambiguously neo-conservative, evangelical worldview. This experiment is documented in the forthcoming album, “The Secret World Of Ruben Smiley, Vol. I”, of which “This One’s For The Kids” is a key track.
I sang toasts to Melania (“The Queen Of Castle Tower (Dear Melania)”), suggested that a return to free market capitalism is just the answer we need for the racial tensions in this country, and somehow got away with it — because Ruben is so damn endearing, kawaii, androgynous, confusing, and we’re all (re: us hipster millennials) just so damn over-eager to place our faith in the next big darling of “Vice” magazine to soothe our desperate desire for stability and entertainment even while we’ve got a live-stream of the apocalypse idling in the other browser tab.
There is something about Ruben that is also an ode to the Northampton artistic community, which is amazing, a community in which the cultivation of idiosyncrasy and weirdness is the highest virtue. This entire process was liberating and I could not have done it anywhere else, actually. I love Northampton, I am grateful to her people, my friends.
I guess, in short, it was all a guerrilla social experiment and performance art piece that played with gender, fake news, liberal taboos, and good old fashioned entertainment. I, for my own gratification foremost, designed Ruben to be at home amongst the Rat Pack. Oh, how I yearn for those days.
“This One’s For The Kids” is about the moral decay of our present western world and the simple answer to the problem: the youth should “grow a pair of balls” and emulate Jesus Christ. Then again, there is perhaps more sincerity in Ruben’s satire than I give him credit for, seeing as I am a self-proclaimed preacher. I do indeed think we’d all be better off if we just “spit out all the Babylonian Kool-Aid”.
Sean McMahon aka Workman Song aka Ruben Smiley