Writing Contest: Semifinalist
Song: "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" (Eric Clapton)
In the song, "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," Eric Clapton sings
about the misuse of money and its harsh impacts. He portrays himself as a millionaire in the
beginning of the song. However, he spends all his money to take his friends out for a good time.
Soon, his poor judgment leads to the loss of all his wealth, and his so-called "friends" desert him.
He sings, "Then I began to fall so low, lost all my good friends, I did not have nowhere to go."
Nobody wants him when he is "down and out" He's left with no money and no friends. Yet
when he accumulates wealth again, everyone wants to be his "long-lost" friend. This song
covers key economic concepts and it is relevant to many situations that are seen today.
Conspicuous consumption is defined as the display of expensive items and heavy
expenditure in order to convince others that one is wealthy (Dictionary.com). This is the central
theme of the song. The singer spends all his money in order to impress his friends. He takes his
friends out for "whiskey, champagne, and wine." It is evident, however, that this is wasteful
spending, since his friends desert him when he has no money left. The lyrics strongly correlate
to the real world. Some people often buy luxurious items that they cannot afford. They try to
attain the goods using credit cards. By using these credit cards, they promise the vendor that
they'll pay the debt in the future. However, this thinking sometimes pushes people past the
limits, and it may put them in debt. Numerous stories in the media tell of people who are unable
to pay off their debts and resort to filing for bankruptcy. If such individuals had limited their
conspicuous consumption, however, they would have been debt-free.
Through strong thematic statements and imagery, the song shows the importance of
saving money. In the song, a person uses all his money on his friends and he is finally left with
nothing. In order to sustain wealth and make gains, one must save and invest money. Losses
can be avoided by saving and investing. Putting money away in banks allows for interest
compounding and minimal gains. Despite extra expenditures, one can prepare for the future by
depositing money in retirement plans.
The song also talks about opportunity cost, or the highest-valued alternative that must be
sacrificed to satisfy a want (Miller and Farese, 1992). The singer makes a poor judgment when
he chooses to spend all his money on his friends. In turn, his wealth begins to be depleted. The
opportunity cost for choosing to spend money on whiskey and wine for friends is depleting his
financial resources. This can be applied to the real world. Evaluating the opportunity costs
before making decisions leads to better decision making.
The song makes a symbolic correlation to the American dollar: "I get my hands on a
dollar again, I'm gonna hang on to it till that eagle grins." The "eagle" he refers to is the one
found on the dollar bill. The singer says that he'll never let go of a dollar unless the eagle on the
dollar smiles. It is apparent that the image of the eagle will never smile, suggesting that he'll
never again let go of a dollar.
In the end of the song, the singer describes how lonely he really was since only money
brought him friends. This song presents the dangers that conspicuous consumption may bring.
By showing off to his friends, the millionaire drains his financial resources. In the end, he is left
with nothing. It also shows the reality of wasting money by not evaluating costs effectively. By
using the aforementioned concepts, the song shows the importance of saving money because in
the end, "nobody knows you when you're down and out."
Dictionary.com 2 Feb. 2005 http://www.dictionary.com.
Glossary of Economic Terms. 22 Feb. 2005
Lyrics Search Engine. 22 Feb. 2005
Miller, Roger Leroy, and Lois Schneider Farese. Understanding Business. Minnesota: West
Publishing Co., 1992.