An angry young man struggling with poverty is the inspiration for Kat Goldman’s accomplished new CD, The Workingman’s Blues.
Goldman was attending university in Boston when she met “the workingman”, as she calls him on the album, in the back of a moving van. Instantly attracted to him, she gave him her phone number, a meeting she describes in one of the songs.
“For a time we did really love each other,” she said. “The main problem was his rage that came from a place of economic resentment and my lack of understanding as to how painful that was for him and his family, and how it had entered every part of their lives through the generations of his family.”
She said that “when you’re growing up poor in a suburb south of Boston, you just are not going to have the opportunity to go to a good school. He did not have a great education, and he was frustrated with his inability to communicate in our relationship. That would trigger his temper.”
Goldman was raised in comfortable circumstances in Toronto, while the workingman’s folks barely made a living on Massachusetts’ South Shore. “I was fortunate to grow up in an upper middle-class Jewish community,” she said. “He used to tell me that he grew up having never had anything. Their lack of money translated into domestic abuse and anger.”
Three years ago, after they split up, Goldman began work on the album. Instead of writing a breakup album, she challenged herself to tell the workingman’s story, which also evokes a broader theme – the anger of America’s working class. “I wanted to tell people what his life was really like,” Goldman said. In most of the songs, Goldman takes on the character of the narrator.
Despite the workingman’s talents – “he could fix anything as a construction, technical person,” Goldman said – he wasn’t rewarded economically. “He would get up at 5 a.m. and go to his hard-labour jobs, without any money for lunch because he was living on tips if it was a moving job. He’d come home hungry and tired and angry and frustrated,” she said.
In the song Put Your Toolbox Down, the narrator pleads with the workingman to calm down after a long day at work. “He would often come home and the temper would start again. That was the hardest thing to live with, to live with a man who has a temper that could go off at any moment. After a while, you really do feel you’re walking on eggshells in your own home and it’s a terrible way to live. I wanted to show that through that song,” Goldman said, adding that he never hit her, but at times she was afraid he might have.
The narrator summarizes their relationship in the title track, The Workingman’s Blues: “Sometimes there were the little acts of kindness/ But sometimes you could be so cruel, but for the sake of love I went ahead in blindness/ It wasn’t always easy loving you.”
Although the album is heavy listening at times, it’s a musical delight, with Goldman’s sense of humour occasionally shining through. In It’s Ovaaah, she mentions Easter dinner with the workingman’s family, “I talk about his mother’s ham on Easter. It was so Woody Allen sitting at their dinner table with his uncle who was wearing the Harley Davidson shirt and looking at me like he wanted to kill me. I was clearly the first and only Jew they had ever met,” Goldman recalls.
She considers the final track she wrote for the album, Take It Down the Line, to be a breakthrough in her songwriting as it’s written entirely from the workingman’s perspective. “He’s going through these memories from his life, of his father beating him, of the hardship he’s been through, yet [he’s determined] to keep going to his job every day and try to reach the American dream,” Goldman said.
As a songwriter, Goldman is at the top of her game. For The Workingman’s Blues, her fourth release, she was determined to steer away from “sleepy folk songs” and sing rock ‘n’ roll, she said. She was listening to 1970s rock artists like the Rolling Stones, Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac while she was writing the album. The strong melodies, Goldman’s appealing whiskey-soaked voice and the workingman’s story make for a compelling journey through the underside of America.
When Goldman and the workingman parted, he made it clear he wanted no contact with her. As far as she knows, he hasn’t heard the album, but she said a part of her is hoping he’ll listen to it on Spotify. “I tried to tell his story as best as I could. I know I haven’t been perfect in telling his story, but at least I tried to tell it,” she said.
Goldman is performing at 6 p.m. at the Burdock Music Hall (burdockto.com) on Jan. 18 and at the Winterfolk Blues and Roots Festival (www.winterfolk.com) in February. For more information, visit katgoldmanmusic.com.