Waxing Nostalgic: Martini Ranch, “How Can the Labouring Man Find Time for Self-Culture?”

Published on April 25th, 2013 in: Music, Waxing Nostalgic |

By Jeffery X Martin


The Eighties were self-referential as soon as they began, simultaneously creating and copying themselves, everything instantly ironic and dependent on everything else. The determinedly plastic and disposable nature of most American New Wave music showed this better than most things; helium songs, with the fluffy substance of a dandelion spore, floating through the earholes of bright girls with side pony-tails and chunky necklaces.

Cleverly, the band Martini Ranch took this aspect of the genre to task in their 1986 single, “How Can the Labouring Man Find Time for Self-Culture?” The lyrics take a firmly humanistic, proletariat stance. I am a human, I am not a number, yet the demands of the modern work-a-day world keep me from ascending Olympus and becoming the god I am destined to be.

It’s difficult to disagree with that sentiment, and yet the music to which the words are set are again major chords, sweetness and light, not the majestic, almost Teutonic, phrasing one would expect from a song that invokes the Goddess of the Night in its lyrics. In this way, it rails against itself and becomes the thing it fears: instantly ironic and self-referential, a hummable and forgettable part of the credibility gap.

The fact we’re even discussing Martini Ranch has less to do with its music and more to do with its personnel. The video, an odd little time capsule, manages to highlight some of the good things about the Eighties.

Martini Ranch’s lead singer is none other than famed genre actor Bill Paxton. This is far from game over, though, man. If there were a Seven Degrees of Bill Paxton, it would begin here. You can practically plot out the early parts of Paxton’s career just from this video.

Is that Michael Biehn? It sure is, and he starred with Paxton in Aliens and The Terminator. There’s Rick Rossovich, who was in The Terminator, Streets of Fire, and The Lords of Discipline with our young friend, Bill. Oh my goodness, it’s Anthony Michael Hall, star of Weird Science, in which Bill Paxton played the sadistic older brother, Chet! And is that Judge Reinhold, from The Lords of Discipline? Yeppers! You betcha. And somewhere in there, if you’re quick, you’ll find Kathryn Bigelow, who directed Paxton in the gritty vampire road epic, Near Dark.

Director Rocky Schenck has directed tons of other videos for artists I like far less, such as Adele, Martika, and Sugarland, but it is always nice to see early work from a successful director.

The video seems more important, and certainly more prescient, than the song that accompanies it. The people associated with this project have all gone on to bigger and better things. We are left with this, more curious than most curiosities, an odd peek into the future wrapped up in the bright and forgettable tinsel of the past.

One Response to “Waxing Nostalgic: Martini Ranch, “How Can the Labouring Man Find Time for Self-Culture?””

  1. Rev. Syung Myung Me:
    April 25th, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Rocky’s also done a lot of videos with Barnes & Barnes, and he did one with DEVO (members of whom produced and performed on this single as well!)

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