Music Mondays: White Collar Holler

It’s Music Monday again.

Today: statistics! Yes, really.

The late folksinger Stan Rogers had a little tiny revival last year when that bizarre and brief sea-shanty fad took hold, and Barrett’s Privateers got an extra 15 minutes of fame. But Rogers also sang land shanties, or at least, he sang one: The White Collar Holler*. Which, believe it or not, is a song about statistics, and data analysis, and programming:

Then it’s code in the data, give the keyboard a punch
Then cross-correlate and break for some lunch
Correlate, tabulate, process and screen
Program, printout, regress to the mean…

(Sorry, a hazard of reaching back in time for music is that there often isn’t an interesting video.)

I find this song fascinating in an art-touches-science kind of way. Most of Roger’s work was very typical of folk songwriting, telling stories about miners, fishers, explorers, soldiers. The title White Collar Holler seems like an explicit acknowledgement that you can write songs about professions that involve data instead of (or in addition to!) axes and nets and rifles. There’s nothing less interesting or less human (the song claims) about a life spent correlating data than about one spent crushing ore. I don’t know that the song is a huge artistic success, but the point about white collar lives is an important one (closely allied to my diatribe once about the paucity of novels about scientists). Science (or statistics, or programming) is just another thing people do – regular people, not weirdly dispassionate automata in starched white lab coats. The White Collar Holler recognizes that.

And now for this week’s I-just-like-it bonus, as long as I have Stan Rogers on my mind, let’s let him sing about miners, and mining, too. This is The Rawdon Hills, about late-19th century gold mining in central Nova Scotia.

It’s haunting, with references to both the human and environmental costs of mining:

The worn-down shacks of labour past on a hill of broken stone
Once brought by men to the stamping mills to brush away the gold…

So that’s your Stan Rogers two-fer for the week. Perhaps I’ll do something a little more recent next week.

© Stephen Heard  August 2, 2021

Image: correlations (crop) © Laerd Statistics via CC BY-SA 4.0

*^Although Rogers was a songwriter par excellence, the White Collar Holler was actually written by his bandmate Nigel Russell. Which I learned only in writing this post.


2 thoughts on “Music Mondays: White Collar Holler

  1. John Pastor

    Can’t get enough Stan Rogers. How about the song about the search for Franklin sometime?

    And with regards to the social and environmental costs of mining, no book is better than How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn.

    Liked by 2 people


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