Tuesday, October 09, 2007

In Defence of Country Music

“I like all kinds of music! Well… except for country.’
– Every indie hipster kid on the planet.

I like country music. It feels like that statement should be followed with “its been 29 years since my last confession” or an announcement that I’m ready to enter a treatment program but you will read neither in this post. I may be biased by my upbringing (see: On My Love For Cowboys) but I believe that the 20-something upper middle class mopey bunch of bespeckled converse wearing kids that I call peers are in denial about country music. When it’s poppy and silly they call it rockabilly. Sweet and slow becomes folk. Edgy and loud is filed under americana. They pretend not to hear the twang. But good country music is still country music. And the hipster kids are wrong -- it’s often pretty awesome, and you may already like it.

This post isn’t about an easy to justify love for alternative country or the old stalwarts (though rest assured that I have plenty of love for the Old 97s and Loretta Lynn). This is about the modern, played on the radio, listen to by millions of folks in states much redder than your own country music. This is about the America that the hipsters (myself included) have often deemed themselves too good for. I worry about just how often “oh god I hate country!” really means “I’m better than everyone in Alabama.” I understand where the egotism comes from -- I know that country music has committed a lot of sins --but in addition to making us big jerks this snobbery is also causing us to miss out on a lot of really good music. Personally I doubt the ego boost is really worth it.

Sadly, finding worth listening to music from Nashville is often more difficult than getting people to comment on this blog (seriously people, step up). Radio stations seem insistent on playing lazy songs about how sad it is when cute widdle babies die, and heroes being awesome, and America kicking some ass. When music is great it is built on conflict, it causes a stir, it leaves people wondering. Everyone already loves babies and we all know that war isn’t an old western about heroes versus villains. Such songs seem trite because they are and I am no advocate for these subgenres but just as the entire catalog of rock music should not be represented by KISS, Toby Keith is not the only face of country (though really Toby shouldn’t be completely banned as the wonder of “I Should Have Been a Cowboy” and the bravado of “How Do You Like Me Now?” probably make up for the awfulness of “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” even if that is the single worst song in the history of the entire planet). Country music is the auditory equivalent of science fiction novels. The abundance of crap on the shelves often makes it all but impossible for the gems to shine through, but the diamonds are out there in hiding, I promise.

The emo punk kids who wallow in songs about broken love and drug addiction should be the first to make an appointment to check out the blue collar side of sad. The Promise Ring ain’t got nothing on Merle, George and Lyle and while I’m being honest – they don’t have much on Garth Brooks either. Country music has perfected pain and passion and it has gotten me through many a bad breakup. While country has a reputation for being simplistic and trite the break up songs are complex and bittersweet, there’s a general recognition that love is hard and even though we all try not to fuck it up, we usually fail. On the flip side the happy lovey-dovey songs are exuberant and full of silver linings that make you want to fall into love as soon as possible. Country music, when it’s not formulaic, has great lyrics and we all know that hipsters love a good turn of phrase.

I did a lot of research for this post in the form of sitting on my couch in my underwear watching CMT. I highly recommend this activity because not only will it provide an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the modern offers of popular country music but CMT is also kind of awesome. In addition to being the home for “Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders: Making the Team” they also frequently broadcast a Fruit of the Loom commercial featuring a scene where the guy dressed as a bunch of grapes rests on the back end of a cowboy’s saddle, holding him up, supporting him, doing everything but reaching around to cup his balls. That’s some reliable underwear. I also witnessed a true winner of a video for the song “(I’m So Much Cooler) Online” which features one Jason Alexander playing a sci fi geek pretending to be a hot country music star on myspace (also making cameos are William Shatner and the former Marsha Brady as Jason's love interest). Say what you want about country music but you do not get this kind of quality programming on MTV.

I know I’m not particularly likely to change a lot of minds with this post (god knows if someone pleaded with me to give hard core rap a chance they’d have a lot of eye rolling on their hands) but those of you who feel secure enough in your coolness to take on some fiddles should get to work on the following playlist.

Brianna’s Essential List of Must Listen Popular Country

Nobody Knows Me – Lyle Lovett

Everything I Love is Killing Me – Alan Jackson

Suds in the Bucket – Sara Evans

I Can Still Make CheyenneGeorge Strait

There is no Arizona – Jaime O’Neal

She’s Every Woman – Garth Brooks

Mama He’s Crazy – The Judds

Sin Wagon – The Dixie Chicks

Third Party Resources
Country music is often not not included in music education, but it's important just the same! Kids often care more about arts and crafts than musical history, but country music is a big part of US history and it's important to embrace that part of our culture, too!


Lost2 said...

But wait- what about Britney? Can I say I hate Britney and still love country music? However, I'm from Texas so its a requirement to love both. :)

alia said...

I'm a folkie myself... just this morning Sam and I sang "The Rattlin Bog" complete with tickle chorus...

er, though the tickle chorus may not strictly be part of the folk tradition...

posting as hinted at

Melissa said...

I once asked a friend to make me a mixed cd, and he included a song on it called Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby by Emmylou Harris. I'm not 100% sure it falls in the country catagory. A bit of a cross between country and those songs that slaves used to sing while working in the field. I'm sure you'd like it.

Sky said...

Okay, you have taught me to love country... well sort of, I still have not gone down the Garth path, but I am well into the "old standards" and have even branched out some from that.
In exchange, I think you need to learn to give reggae a chance. Otherwise I might accuse you of thinking that you are better than everyone in Jamaica (or heck, Willits).

Michael said...

Shouldn't this post also have an offer for a mixed country conversion CD? Something that we could listen to on a trial basis and, if we are not completely satisfied, return in order to get our money back? Oh, maybe we shouldn't have to put money down at all. . . . Yes, a free CD would help this conversion process along nicely.

Brianna said...

Lost: I'm not sure how Brit comes into play but please continue the hating.

Melissa: That song is from the "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" Sound track and it's awesome -- very sultry and hypnotic.

Sky: I accept the challenge! Send me a CD and I will try to have an open mind and might even *gulp* blog about reggae...

Michael: a good point -- I offer a free country mix CD to anyone willing to listen.

Anonymous said...

Have any of ya'll out there listeners of Lonestar 92.5 out of Dallas?
I know that they just hosted a great Lynard Skynard show on the 12th if anyone was out there for it.
If ya'll are interested in the country music scene, come check out the Lonestar 92.5's website at
http://www.lonestar925.com/ for the latest on your favorite classic rock, alternative country, outlaw country, and much more - plus
have little commercial interruption.
Currently they're holding a contest on the site promoting the Black Crowe's concert OCT 26th!
Check the site, you’ll get the chance to win two tickets to the Black Crowes show, vip access, and a backstage tour!
Been workin with the station and I have to say, if you're a true fan of the Texas music scene, or just country in general, come take a look! They have a great listing of local concerts as well.