Skip to comments.Middle America's soul:If you want to understand (USA), turn that dial to a country-music station
Posted on 12/24/2006 4:06:27 PM PST by InvisibleChurch
IN 1943 Roy Acuff, a country superstar, invited the governor of Tennessee to a party. The governor snubbed him, complaining that he and his awful musicians were making Tennessee the hillbilly capital of the United States.
No modern American politician would dare be so sniffy about country music. On the contrary, many embrace it. Mark Warner campaigned for the governorship of Virginia in 2001 with a lively bluegrass song: Get ready to shout it from the coal mines to the stills/ Here comes Mark Warner, the hero of the hills. He wonquite an achievement for a Democrat in a conservative state, especially when you consider that he was a Connecticut Yankee who had moved to northern Virginia and made a zillion in the telecommunications industry, as conceded by his campaign manager, Dave Mudcat Saunders.
Mr Saunders reckons that if you want to get a message down into the soul of a God-fearing, native-to-the-earth, rural-thinking person, one of the surest ways is through traditional country music. He may be right. And there are an awful lot of God-fearing, rural-thinking folk in America. Some 45m Americans tune in to country-music radio stations each week. In the heartland, no other genre comes close.
But for some Americans, still, there is something risible about country. I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means put down, quipped Bob Newhart, a comedian. When George Bush senior wrote an article about how much he liked country music for Country America magazine, the Washington Post reprinted it under the snooty headline: George and the Oval Office Do-Si-Do: Heck, a President Ain't Nothin' but Just Folks.
Outside America, the sneering is unrestrained. When Garth Brooks, who has sold more than 115m albums, appeared on British television in 1994, one interviewer chortled: I thought you'd come in here and twiddle your pistol around. Another shrugged: He's selling more records than anyone in the world, but none of us have ever heard of him.
Too sensible to be cool Cool people think country is hopelessly square. Country singers neither cuss like rappers nor grapple so boldly with edgy subjects. Some messages are clearly not allowable [in country music], like Fuck tha police or I got 99 problems and a bitch ain't one, writes Chris Willman in his excellent book Rednecks and Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music. But then there are messages that aren't allowable in any other popular-music genre that flourish here, such as: I wish I'd been there when my mama died. I miss my husband in Iraq. Babies and old people rule. If I die, take care of my kids for me.
Once they pass a certain age, most Americans stop worrying about being cool. This is often when they start (or go back to) listening to country music. It's not about sexual innuendo or bling, but the problems and experiences of ordinary people: love, loss, family life, having a good time and a sense of humour, says Joe Galante, head of Sony BMG's country-music division.
Anthropologists studying obscure tribes in Peru or Papua New Guinea often mine their folk songs for clues as to how they think and what they believe. In the same way anyone who wants to understand the world's most politically influential tribethe people of Middle America, who pick most American presidentsshould pay attention to country music.
After the attacks of September 11th 2001, country singers expressed their fury more bluntly than most other celebrities. In Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue, for example, Toby Keith sang: Justice will be served/ And the battle will rage/ This big dog will fight/ When you rattle his cage/ And you'll be sorry that you messed with/ The U.S. of A./ 'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass/ It's the American way.
Darryl Worley, another country star, heard a fellow American say he didn't understand why America had to invade Afghanistan. Incredulous, he wrote a song in reply: Have you forgotten how it felt that day?/ To see your homeland under fire/ And her people blown away/ Have you forgotten when those towers fell?/ We had neighbours still inside going through a living hell/ And you say we shouldn't worry about bin Laden/ Have you forgotten?
Rhyming bin Laden with forgotten was controversial, but not as much as this couplet: Some say this country's just out looking for a fight/ After 9/11, man, I'd have to say that's right.
Patriotism and politics Some seized on the enormous popularity of such songs as evidence that America is a dangerously militaristic society. But even Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue is mild compared with the country songs of the second world war, such as We're Gonna Have to Slap the Dirty Little Jap or Smoke on the Water, a hit that included the couplet: There'll be nothing left but vultures to inhabit all that land/ When our modern ships and bombers make a graveyard of Japan.
Back in the more recent past, one country ensemble, the Dixie Chicks, took a different view of President George Bush's military ventures. On March 10th 2003, as war in Iraq loomed, Natalie Maines, the lead singer, told an audience in London that she was ashamed that Mr Bush was from her home state of Texas. At the time, the Chicks were arguably the most popular band in America, having recently sold $49m-worth of concert tickets on a single day. But country fans did not appreciate Ms Maines undermining the commander-in-chief on the eve of war. Furious listeners jammed country radio stations' phone lines demanding a boycott, and most stations complied. The Chicks are still very successful, but some of their old fans have yet to forgive them.
One reason for the ferocity of the Chicks' roasting was that a lot of country fans have friends or relatives in the armed forces. The same is true of the stars. Chely Wright, for example, has a brother in the marines, a father who served in the navy during the Vietnam war and a grandfather who won a Purple Heart on the Normandy beaches. She mentions all this in Bumper of My SUV, a song about a lady in a rich neighbourhood who saw the US Marines sticker on Ms Wright's car, made an obscene gesture and shouted abuse at her: Your fucking war is wrong!
Ms Wright suggests that the marines help keep this lady safe as she drives her kids home from their private school. Such sentiments go down well with the troops when she performs for them. She once visited a remote camp in Iraq and found that the men had scrubbed a port-a-potty and not let anyone use it for two weeks so she could have a clean one. One soldier, she told Mr Willman, queued three times for her autograph and ended up hanging out with the band. The next day he was killed. His mother said later that she found herself staring at photos of Ms Wright on her website because you were the last woman to talk to my son.
As the news from Iraq has grown grimmer, country songs have grown more subdued. In John Michael Montgomery's Letters from Home, a soldier reads messages from his family: I hold it up and show my buddies/ Like we ain't scared and our boots ain't muddy/ But no one laughs, 'cause there ain't nothing funny/ When a soldier cries/ And I just wipe my eyes/ I fold it up and put it in my shirt/ Pick up my gun and get back to work.
As the war has gotten into the state it's in, people have gotten confused, says Joe Galante. As a result, he reckons, country musicians are producing fewer fighting songs and more about faith. When country fans need guidance on important issues, the only way to look is up.
Consider the 2005 hit Jesus Take the Wheel by Carrie Underwood (pictured above). The song's narrator is driving home to Cincinnati to see her parents on Christmas Eve, with the baby in the back seat and no husband. With 50 miles to go, she was running low on faith and gasoline. Distracted by her worries, she skids on black ice and nearly kills herself and her baby. She throws up her hands and says: Jesus take the wheel/ Take it from my hands/ 'Cause I can't do this all on my own/ I'm letting go/ So give me one more chance/ To save me from this road I'm on.
It is as hard to imagine a mainstream pop act releasing a song like this as it is to imagine a country artist penning a song like John Lennon's Imagine. Madonna may dabble in Kabbalah and Lisa Marie Presley may seek answers from L. Ron Hubbard, but among country singers it is pretty much taken for granted that you are Christian.
Country Christianity, if one can call it that, is neither puritanical nor unforgiving. Sex is fun and people stray, in country music as in reality. Cheatin' songs, with titles like Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under? are common. But such songs are usually suffused with regret. Lee Ann Womack's linesI may hate myself in the morning, but I'm gonna love you tonighteloquently capture an inner conflict doubtless felt by many of her fans.
Country singers see no contradiction in loving Jesus and partying raucously. Consider two songs by Joe Nichols, a young star from Arkansas. In the first verse of If Nobody Believed in You, he tells the story of a little boy who stops playing baseball because his father says, in a voice loud and mean, that You won't amount to anything. How, Mr Nichols asks, would you feel? You'd probably give up too/ If nobody believed in you.
In the second verse, an old man gives up trying to pass his driving test because his son doesn't believe in him. Only then does the velvet-voiced Mr Nichols reveal what the song is really about. We take His name out of schools/ The lawyers say it breaks the rules. How long will it be, he asks, before God gives up on mankind? You'd probably give up too/ If nobody believed in you.
Mr Nichols also wrote a hit last year called Tequila Makes her Clothes Fall off. This delightful song, narrated by a man, is about a lady who likes to go out and drink Margaritas with her girlfriends. This is embarrassing for him, because although she can handle any champagne brunch or Bacardi punch, not to mention Jello shooters full of Smirnoff, Tequila makes her clothes fall off.
Booze is, without question, the drug of choice for country folk. Toby Keith's song I Love this Bar got to number one in America's country charts in 2003, and Get Drunk and be Somebody made it to number three this year. Illegal drugs are more or less taboo in country music, but not just because they are illegal. Country music celebrates illicit alcohol, after all: the reference in Mark Warner's campaign song to stills in the hills continues a tradition that stretches back at least as far as Bob Miller's prohibition-era ditty, The Dry-Votin', Wet-Drinkin', Better-Than-Thou Hypocritical Blues.
Do country singers favour alcohol because Jesus drank (or at least turned water into wine) but never snorted coke? More likely it is because their fans prefer a fridge full of beer to a bag of white powder. With a Bud, you know exactly how much each gulp will intoxicate you (not much, if it's Bud Light). So you can let yourself go on Saturday night without much risk that you'll wind up in hospital and unable to drive the kids to school on Monday morning. Country folk are sensible, mostly.
Booze also dulls the pain of heartbreak, an essential theme of country music. In Brad Paisley's haunting Whiskey Lullaby, a man's lover put him out like the burnin' end of a midnight cigarette/ She broke his heart; he spent his whole life tryin' to forget/ We watched him drink his pain away a little at a time/ But he never could get drunk enough to get her off his mind/ Until the night/ He put that bottle to his head and pulled the trigger/ And finally drank away her memory.
Some say country music itself is a better balm for broken hearts. Whereas anguished Manhattanites pay hundreds of dollars an hour to lie on a couch and talk about themselves, country fans put on a Wynonna Judd CD and hear someone sing about problems that sound awfully like theirs. Say you have endured a family break-up or think you might be addicted to food: Wynonna has been there, feels your pain and articulates it far more tunefully than you ever could. As another country singer, Dierks Bentley, once put it: Country music has always been the best shrink that 15 bucks can buy.
Redneck pride White working-class and rural Americans, especially southerners, used to worry that the coastal elite looked down on them. They still do, but many are now reclaiming the labels redneck and white trash and wearing them with pride, just as some gays call themselves queer and some urban blacks call themselves nigga.
Toby Keith, who was once an oil driller in Oklahoma and also played semi-pro football for a team called the Oklahoma City Drillers, has an album called White Trash with Money. And Gretchen Wilson (pictured below), a country star raised by a single mother in a trailer park in Pocahontas, Illinois, has a great song called Redneck Woman.
Some people look down on me/ But I don't give a rip/ I'll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip, she declares. Being a redneck means: I keep my Christmas lights on, on my front porch all year long/ And I know all the words to every Charlie Daniels song. She grew up short of cash, but didn't care that she couldn't afford fancy underwear: Victoria's Secret/ Well their stuff's real nice/ Oh but I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half-price.
Country Music Television (CMT), a cable channel, carries a show featuring Jeff Foxworthy, a comedian whose catchphrase is: You might be a redneck if.... There is an inexhaustible supply of punchlines, from the photo on your driver's licence includes your dog to you think the last words to The Star-Spangled Banner are Gentlemen, start your engines.
The humour on CMT may be goofy, but it is mostly clean. The viewers tend to have children, says Brian Philips, CMT's boss, and do not want to have to change the channel when the kids walk in. Country-music videos are sometimes raunchy, but not too raunchy: an outcry over the brief nudity in the video for I Melt by Rascal Flatts prompted the band to issue an expurgated version. And Trick my Truck, CMT's version of Pimp my Ride (a popular show in which people make their cars flashier), is startlingly wholesome.
Some fans find mainstream country music too cloying or conservative. For those who want a different kind of country, there is a thriving alt country scene, also known as Americana or y'allternative music.
Todd Snider's songs, for example, blame Conservative Christian, right-wing Republican, straight white American males for many of the world's ills, particularly soul-savin', flag-wavin', Rush-lovin', land-pavin' personal friends to the Quayles. Another alt country singer, Robbie Fulks, fulminates about how, as he sees it, George Bush is a north-eastern preppie posing as a southerner. If you went to Andover, what's the banjo fer?/ You wasn't raised in a shack so you better not act so/ Countrier than thou.
Of course there are also country artists who paddle rightwards out of the mainstream. The Right Brothers, for example, have a song called I Want to Live, narrated by a fetus. Another singer, Royal Wade Kimes, rouses National Rifle Association conventions with In My Land: The Second-Amendment Anthem. And, going back a few years, Ray Stevens, a comedy country singer, encapsulated the concerns of God-loving, tax-hating conservatives with If 10% is Good Enough for Jesus, It Oughta be Enough for Uncle Sam.
But angry political songs are not really what country is about. Most of all, it is about realism, says John Rumble, a historian at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. And reality, for Middle America, is mostly quite pleasant. Consider Craig Morgan's song That's what I love about Sunday: Sing along as the choir sways;/ Every verse of Amazin' Grace,/ An' then we shake the preacher's hand/ Go home, into your blue jeans/ Have some chicken an' some baked beans/ Pick a back yard football team/ Nothin' much of anything/ That's what I love about Sunday.
I favor the "hippie" country stuff.Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen,New Riders of the Purple Sage,Flying Burrito Brothers.I do love Charlie Daniels and David Allen Coe's stuff.Can't stand the New Wave pretty boy country crap.
I really cannot appreciate C/W music. I listen to a song here and there but most of those could also be called poop.
I always think it is funny is how fast the C/W performers are at coming to market with tribute songs to memoralize some sort of tragedy...
Hank Williams Sr., who IMHO is largely misunderstood, was a bonafide genius. I'd put Willie Nelson close to him.
What we have now is a bunch of pandering morons who sound more like pop than country.
Mojo Nixon. The only country worth listenin to.
Elvis really is everywhere....
Plus, Kris Kristofferson has the best resume of anyone, ever.
I could not agree with you more. Most appear to be selling faces and image not music.
It's a business. They have to sell a bunch of seats to concerts and a bunch of CD or downloads to stay in business. So they pander. Not that different than what Madonna does.
......Crystal Gayle ......
Nothing there but long, long hair
I got the shaft Bump
She got the ring, I got the finger bump -- right back atcha!
"I'd rather listen to a dying calf in a hailstorm."
I believe that you would not recognise the sounds of a calf in trouble at any time. This is indicative of the city slickers who have NO clue as to where their food comes from. You all take alot for granted when you enter a restaurant or grocery store.
OTOH, many years ago, I used to work for the phonograph record division of Universal Studios. The country music portion was the complete backbone of the industry. Came into recording sessions prepared, did their job, and didn't rack up unnecessary costs. They sold solidly on a year-in and year-out basis. They also usually didn't get into headline busting trouble. The country part of music supported many others who shouldn't have ever gotten a single trip to the recording studio.
I'm still payin on the vinyl
Elvis is in everybody out there.
Everybody's got Elvis in them.
Everybody except one person that is,
Yeah, one person!
The evil opposite of Elvis,
Anti-Elvis got no Elvis in him,
Lemme tell ya.
Michael J. Fox has no Elvis in him.
I can't believe he's still around.
That about says it all.
You might have warned a tissue would be needed, but I loved reading evvery word.
'Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life' ---- - - - - - - - so true!
Mojo? Mojo will never die!
You can't kill me
I will not die
Not now not ever
I'm gonna live a long, long time
My soul raves on forever...
Makes ya really miss Conway. :)
1. Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In Bed
2. Get Your Tongue Otta My Mouth 'Cause I'm Kissing You Goodbye
3. Her Teeth Was Stained, But Her Heart Was Pure
4. How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?
5. I Can't Get Over You, So Why Don't You Get Under Me
6. I Don't Know Whether To Kill Myself Or Go Bowling
7. I Got In At 2 With a 10, And Woke Up At 10 With a 2.
8. I Hate Every Bone In Your Body Except For Mine
9. I Just Bought A Car From A Guy That Stole My Girl, But The Car
Don't Run, So I figure We Got An Even Deal
10. I Keep Forgettin' I Forgot About You
11. I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well
12. I Still Miss You Baby, But My Aim's Gettin' Better
13. I Wouldn't Take Her To A Dog Fight, Cause I'm Afraid She'd Win
14. I'll Marry You Tomorrow But Let's Honeymoon Tonight
15. I'm So miserable Without You, It's Like Having You Here
16. I've Got Tears in My Ears From Lying On My Back While I Cry Over you
17. If I Can't Be Number One In Your Life, Then Number Two On You
18. If I Had Shot You When I Wanted To, I'd Be Out By Now
19. Mama Get A Hammer (There's A Fly On Papa's Head)
20. My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, And I Love Rovers
21. My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend, and I Sure Do Miss Him
22. Please Bypass this Heart
23. She Got The Ring and I Got The Finger
24. You're the Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly
How about the Austin sound, aka Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock...?
I came to appreciate Hank via a stage production called "Lost Highway." See my post 20.
But Willie Nelson does not belong on the same page, let alone the same paragraph. YUCK.
I'd rather hear my favorite gal, Patsy Cline, sing "Crazy" even if Willie did write it.
I believe you may have misinterpreted my post. Perhaps the poster of #17 said what I meant to say more clearly.
"Smoke in the Water" (WWII version)
"There'll be nothing left but vultures
to inhabit all that land,
When our modern ships and bombers
make a graveyard of Japan."
Anyone know where I could find the complete lyrics and music? Searching for SotW only turns up references to the 1973 Rock song.
I agree about Don William's voice...it's like warm honey.
huh, i thot i'd sent a link... the Robinsons must be bored and are toying with my posts ; )
Still no link. Why not send the address and I'll cut-n-paste.
The kid from Rogers, Arkansas, who inherited his love of country at the feet of semi-professional pickers including his grandfather, uncles and truck driving father Mike, was facing personal tragedy. Six days before MAN WITH A MEMORYs release, at what might have been a moment of immense familial pride, Joes dad succumbed to a long battle with a rare pulmonary illness at age 46. Rather than cancel an earlier scheduled performance on the Grand Ole Opry, the day after the funeral the entire Nichols clan decided to drive to Nashville to watch Joe sing his fathers favorite Merle Haggard song, Footlights, as a tribute.
Favorite sports teams? Razorbacks of Arkansas (football/basketball)
Magazines you subscribe to? Dont subscribe to magazines but I read R&R and Billboard.
Guilty pleasures? Staying up until 5:00am and eating Skittles Im a Waffle House junkie.
Thing you love the most you lost? Lost a best friend right after high school, who died in a car crash.
Things people would be surprised to know about you? Im a shy guy.
Do you balance your checkbook? No way.
Luckiest moment? When I got the opportunity to meet Tony Brown and Tim DuBois, the presidents of my record label.
Personal motto? Its all in Gods hands.
Scariest moment? Playing the Grand Ole Opry for the first time.
Physical fitness routine? Cardio and lifting 3-5 times weekly at Gold's Gym.
Things you hate to do? I hate to tell people no.
Things you love to do? I love to sing and to travel.
Favorite place? Home
Most embarrassing moment? When I was six or seven I was at church with my family (in front of 400 people), the preacher asked for hymn requests, I stood up and requested Red Neckin', Love Makin' Night.
Who would you like to meet? Jesus, Elvis, Hank Williams
What youll buy with your first big royalty check? A nice spread a house with a little bit of room.
What can you cook well? Steak
What do you think your strengths are? Finding middle ground Im a good mediator between people.
What do you think your weaknesses are? Sometimes, Im a pushover.
What would your mom say about the above? Dad? Mom & Dad would say my strength is that Im a people guy I talk to people well; they would think my weakness is punctuality or lack there of.
"I favor the "hippie" country stuff.Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen,New Riders of the Purple Sage,Flying Burrito Brothers.I do love Charlie Daniels and David Allen Coe's stuff.Can't stand the New Wave pretty boy country crap."
How I love NRPS, Poco, Pure Prairie League, the Dead, Marshall Tucker, etal. I completely forgot about Commander Cody! (Time to unbox all my albums)
"Smoke on the Water" was a WWII song named from the use of smoke by battleships to confuse the enemy. From Walter Lenk come the original words to the song:
Smoke on the Water
Oh, there is a sad day coming for the foes of all mankind,
They must answer to the people and it's troubling their mind,
Everybody who must fear them will rejoice on that great day,
When the powers of dictators shall be taken all away.
There'll be Smoke on the Water, on the land and the sea,
When our Army and our Navy overtakes the enemy,
There'll be smoke on the mountains where the heathen Gods stay,
And the sun that is rising will go down on that day.
For there is a great destroyer made of fire and flesh and steel,
Rolling toward the foes of freedom, they'll go down beneath it's wheel,
They'll be nothing left but vultures to inhabit all that land,
When our modern ships and bombers make a graveyard of Japan
Hirohito 'long with Hitler will be riding on the rail,
Mussolini will beg for mercy, as a leader he has failed,
There'll be no time for pity when the screaming eagle flies,
It will be the end of Axis, they must dance away their lies.
"Smoke on the Water" was written in 1944 by Zeke Clements and recorded shortly thereafter by Red Foley. A recording was aired in August 2001 on "Hillbilly at Harvard" (WHRB in Cambridge). This information came from a recording in the collection of Tillman Franks via Hutch Hutchinson, and was from an Armed forces radio broadcast in 1944 over WXLD on the island of Saipan where they were building the airstrip to be used to bomb Japan. The band was "The Rainbow Boys" featured on the "Calico Jamboree," and known members included Tillman Franks, Merle Clayton on Vocals, and Pete Seeger on Banjo.
you're what i love about every day of the week, babe. :D
Yes, thank you. Now if I can just find the tune.
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