“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 Cheyenne – George 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 ResourcesCountry 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!