“I’m gonna spend it all, why wait for another day
I’ma take all this money I own and blow it all away
Cause I can’t take it when I’m gone, gone, gone, gone.”
-Wiz Khalifa, “When I’m Gone”
Since the city of Pittsburgh holds a special place in my heart, I’m pretty much obligated to have some Wiz Khalifa on my iPod. “Black and Yellow” is practically Pittsburgh’s anthem, but I especially like the song “When I’m Gone,” the chorus of which is quoted above (click here for full lyrics if you’re not familiar with the song.) I tend not to over-intellectualize music, by which I mean I listen songs that sound nice to my ears, even if the actual lyrics of the song aren’t particularly great. But the other day I was listening to this song and it stopped me in my tracks – ok, fine, it stopped me from grading papers, but you get the idea. I really listened to the lyrics for the first time was struck by how sharply this song reflects a lot of the mixed messages we get in our culture about wealth.
If you read the chorus above, it’s clear Wiz Khalifa is talking about blowing all his money because he can’t take it with him (presumably he means he can’t take it with him when he’s dead). Obviously, this is terrible financial advice. Spending all your money on your friends – which is what other portions of the song allude to – is not the path to financial success or stability. Wealth is built on saving, investing, and spending money wisely.
Before you say, “But it’s just a song! Quit reading so much into it!” think for a second: how many times have you heard someone say something like “Live in the moment!” “Carpe diem!” “You only live once!” and, of course, “You can’t take it with you!” It’s not just Wiz Khalifa talking about blowing his money; at one point or another, I’m sure that someone you actually know and whose opinion you value has told you to do the same thing.
To be clear, Wiz Khalifa is not a role model of any kind and I’m sure that he wasn’t trying to give financial advice in this song. I understand completely that he’s not peddling a financial message. But I do think the song reflects our cultural ambivilance about wealth. On the one hand, we’re told to be prudent with our finances: save, get of debt, spend prudently. That’s how you build wealth, and wealth is something that most Americans value, admire, and aspire to. On the other hand, there’s always someone out there telling us that life is short and we can’t take it with us, whether that’s Wiz Khalifa or the coworker in the cubicle next to you.
I suppose we all have the responsibility to find a balance between being responsible with our money and enjoying our lives, but finding that balance is difficult in a culture with so many competing value systems when it comes to money. For those of us who are especially money conscious – and who are thus more likely to notice all the mixed messages out there – it’s hard to feel good about any of our financial choices. At least, that’s how I feel sometimes.
How about you?