Rethinking Country Music

You know, I have a lot of "re-" posts on this blog. Rethinking, reconsidering... I find this blog a useful place to work through second thoughts, reevaluations, new perspectives, or returns to subjects from fresh angles.

Being in Tennessee, perhaps it's predictable that sooner or later I'd rethink country music. But it's probably not in a predictable manner. I still don't listen to the vast majority of country, though I've always liked Patsy Cline, and who could dislike "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" on the jukebox? I think my friend Kate has always liked "Rocky Top," and though I didn't like it when younger, I've since come to enjoy the knee-slappin' twang of it. (Wasn't it you who'd enjoy it on the Rainbows Bar jukebox? Or do I misremember?)

But I still dislike the majority of country and worse for me is the political conservatism that seems to accompany it and, especially, its fans. I don't groove on white trash anthems or sappy break-up songs or high hair or "boot scoot boogies" or cowboy-hatted bubbas. This is, in part, cultural bias. Or at least cultural difference I can't get past.

Nonetheless, there are some artificial distinctions here that require me to say that, in certain circumstances, I do like country. I like rockabilly. I like bluegrass. I like "Ring of Fire" and "Jolene" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" sung with all the fervor singers can muster for a religion I will never understand.

More importantly, dismissing country wholesale means dismissing a folk tradition and a long and compelling history. One I'm proud to say I'm reading in Charles Wolfe's 1977 book about the relationship between country music and Tennessee, called Tennessee Strings.

I saw Walk the Line last night on HBO when flipping channels and found it badly written but engaging enough to watch most of. And it made me thinkg of Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly and Elvis all playing alongside Johnny Cash and the artificiality of country/rock distinctions with their performances and songs. And I really wanted to talk to Charles. But he's gone so I can't. Which is really unfortunate. I'm rethinking and he's unavailable for comment. A colleague replied that perhaps he was up in heaven having a beer with Johnny Cash even now. Great image. And if I believed in an afterlife, it would have been even better.

Another person I know is a book editor and just finished an editing job that should really be called writing a book (but won't because his name won't be on it as author or ghostwriter or assistant - just in the acknowledgements page, I imagine) about Johnny Cash, a guy's memoirs related to touring with Cash. Maybe I'll pick that one up too after I finish some of Charles' work.

Anyhow, I don't imagine becoming a country music fan anytime soon (or probably ever), but the history and study of it is definitely worth my time.


Cupid said...

'Walk The Line' both fascinated and disgusted me... but that's the conservative in me. ;)

I hated country music growing up. It was either country or gospel on the radio at our house and I really despised it. I remember when I got my first car I refused to have ANY country stations programmed into the buttons.

After I got married and moved to Idaho, I found myself trying to find stations that played the music I grew up hearing... music I hated at the time, but brought some familiarity and comfort to me.... and in the process ended up hearing different artists. I'm not a fan of just 'any' country. I dislike artists who think they have to scream or to sing 15 octaves in one syllable (whether country or any other genre of music). I like pure, simplistic voices (think Karen Carpenter, what a pure voice, IMO. Never straining, she just opened her mouth and out came the sound that was so uniquely her) Which brings me to country... Vince Gill, another pure voice... Alison Krauss, although it took a while for me to really 'like' her, the woman is definitely talented, and she's another example of a pure voice. George Strait, no putting on airs, just open up and out it comes, Texas honky-tonk country at its finest and purest. A newer group that I absolutely adore is Rascal Flatts. Not 'the' most talented out there, but the lead singer has a tenor voice that I just absolutely adore.

I'm not a fan of all country music, most artists (especially the ones whose music overpowers the voice -- which makes me think they're compensating for their lack of talent with elaborate music) leave me cold. But there are those who stand out to me, and sometimes they're not even the most famous ones.

Anyway, just my thoughts on country music. ;)


Kate said...

Sorry Babe, you misremember. I hated Rocky Top at Rainbows. (I liked Little Red Riding Hood with all the Ahoo girls singing along).
Can't stand most of country music myself. There is always a song or two from any genre that will catch my ear. As far as country music and politics, how come Toby Keith is allowed to trash the Dixie Chicks but when they hit back(the infamous FUTK t-shirt) they are the bad guys?
No big fan of Keith Jackson but how could I not love a man who writes a song about my hero? (It's Five O'Clock Somewhere) and I did of course love JB's CD Lisense to Chill.
I find as I grow older, new music, whatever form, leaves me cold. Which I find to be a good thing, because it means that new forms are emerging for a new generation and that art, whatever form it takes is alive and growing. And that is something to take comfort in.

Elyce Rae Helford said...

Cupid: I think we're meant to be disgusted by Cash's druggie excess, yes? Though the portrayal of his first wife was totally unsympathetic.

Kate: Well shame on me for getting old and having a bad memory. Also, Chad heard an NPR story that argues that our musical tastes get set in our 20s and we find it very hard to rewire our tastes thereafter. Certainly, part of me is stuck in the 80s, but then, I also love some more recent artists, like Tracy Bonham and Fleming and John, so there's hope for this old gal yet!

Cupid said...

The part that really disgusted me was the glorifying of adultery as a love story. This was not an open marriage, it was cheating at its 'finest' ... hence the reason I said the conservative in me was disgusted. And to have it played out onscreen as a love story kinda left me cold -- much like 'The Bridges of Madison County'.

Just call me weird. ;)

P.S... I also like Tracy Bonham.

Elyce Rae Helford said...

That's very interesting, Cupid. I definitely felt Cash was a DOG when he started sleeping with fangirls, but the film made it so clear that his wife did not love or understand him and Carter did and was herself unloved and underappreciated that I didn't have an issue with their "romance." That the Carter parents we so judgmental then pushed their daughter's co-dependency into high gear rang more troublesome to me than any sex the two may have had. But then there's the whole issue of film representations of "romance" and how we all know the ending already and all that jazz.... So, between film conventions and mediocre scripting, I just didn't fall into it as anything but a Hollywood fantasy. Still, Joaquin is a babe and I never really noted that quite so fully. ;)