Country Music Blues

Posted: December 7, 2011 in Miscellaneous
Tags: , , , , , , ,

George Strait has more Number One singles than any other artist across all genres.

One night I did an experiment.  I sat in the Arts and Humanities Students’ Council Office and blared country music as loud as the crappy speakers on the council computer would let me.  I cranked up some Brantley Gilbert songs about partying in the woods and running moonshine.  I cranked up some George Strait tear-jerkers.  I jammed to some Zac Brown folk-soul-country.  I played modern country and I played old-school country.  I played up-tempo foot stompers and slow, old bar-room ballads.  But the result of the experiment would only ever be one thing.

I got the dirtiest looks from the people who walked by that office.  It was almost as if they were offended to be graced by the wholesome sounds of country music.  One girl, on her way to the bathroom, stopped for a second and just stared, with eyes ablaze like some spawn of Satan wishing death upon all things happy and breathing.  It was safe to say that country music was not her cup of tea.

Based on the reactions I got, and the accumulated data of four years at this school, it is readily apparent that people at Western do not like country music.  And, even though doing so will get me absolutely nowhere, I have to ask why?

I know that I derive my pleasure from country music in a way best described by Trace Adkins:

I met a guy on the red eye.
He spotted my guitar
and said what do you do?
I said, ‘I sing for a living,
Country music mixed with
a little rock and a little blues.’
He said, ‘I’m sorry,
but I’ve never been crazy
’bout that twang and trains and hillbilly thing.
What ever made you want to sing stuff like that?’
I just looked at him and laughed and said,

‘Cause they’re songs about me
and who I am.’

Many of the stereotypes that others point out in country music were a reality of my childhood.  I grew up on this type of music and in this type of culture.  Every morning when I woke up, the radio would be tuned to the local country station, where the sounds of Paul Brandt’s Small Towns and Big Dreams would describe our little section of farm town life as if he wrote it while driving down Ridge Road past the feed mill and the covered bridge.  From this point of view there is a certain romantic beauty to country music.  It takes the hard work of the everyday man and glorifies it; it makes the farmer growing your crops or the mason building your house into the heroes that they are.  It lays bare the soul of the world in a way that perhaps no other music can match.

But that’s my point of view.  That’s what drives my desire to know why country music is such an anathema to the population of this school.

The one point that jumps out at me is that not everyone comes into this school from the same background and the same values that I do.  There are as many daddy’s-credit-card-wielding, grew-up-in-a-rich-neighbourhood-in-Oakville people at this school as there are proud-to-be-called-such hicks.  There are as many people from small towns that just wanted to get away as there are people who can’t wait to go back.  The music they grew up with and that they treasure is something else.  They just can’t relate to songs about your pickup truck breaking down on some old gravel road or partying in some big ol’ field with a bonfire reminiscent of the one that resulted from a certain burning of alcohol-soaked couches.  And that’s fine, I can understand that.

The picture says it all...

What I can’t understand is the animosity.  There is a significant population that degrades country music based on the twanginess of the signing or the stereotypes present in the lyrics, but you can always say similar things about any other type of music.  For example, you might look at the distinctive vocal styles of auto-tuned pop and rap music or the angsty cry of the indie rocker.  Each genre has its own distinctive style that the majority of its artists follow and that designates it as that given style of music; that’s simply the way genres work.  Whether it is good or not is a matter of personal preference and is really nothing to get antagonistic over.  The same kind of thought can be applied to the stereotypes of given musical styles.  The emo sound, for instance, is characterized by a heavy reliance on emotional tropes, in particular sadness or angst.  Rap, as I’ve jokingly said before, can be broken down into songs about “capping a bitch,” doing drugs, or throwing money around.  Even heavy metal can be broken down into the stereotypes of death, destruction, and epic fantasy.  On one hand these stereotypes fit the bill, where in such a case it comes back to a matter of preference.  On the other they are but Wikipedia summaries of rich musical genres with large quantities of subject matter.

In any case there is no cause for animosity.  The beauty of music as a whole is that it can appeal to anyone in any situation.  I have yet to meet the person that says they don’t listen to music at all.  This beauty is also the reason why we have so many different kinds of artists and why we have genres.  Different artists and genres identify specific areas that people like.  This is as true of country as it is for rock and roll.  Yet people don’t hate rock and roll.  They don’t approach it with the same look of disgust on their faces as they do country.

The one solace that I can take from this entire thing is the way certain elements of country music—family, friends, and growing up—can speak to us all.  There is, at the end of the day, a certain universality about country music that isn’t as present in other forms of music.  These concepts that I listed above apply to all of us equally.  We all have some sense of family, friendship, and life.  Even if we’re separated from our family, have few friends, or have had a rough time in life we still have common ground in talking about them.  I think Jennifer Nettles, Kristian Bush, and Tim Owens put it best in their song “Very Last Country Song.”  The lyrics in the chorus describe perfectly this commonality:

"Very Last Country Song" singers Sugarland.

But if life stayed the way it was
And lovers never fell out of love
If memories didn’t last so long
If nobody did nobody wrong
If we knew what we had before it was gone
If every road led back home
This would be the very last country song

These things—that happen so often in everyday life—are what make up the majority of country music.  All the things that happen to us that have meaning—that stick with us emotionally—are captured in country music.  In order for country music to become irrelevant things would have to stay the same, people would not be left broken-hearted, we would forget about everything bad that ever happened, and we would have the foresight to avoid anything bad that came our way.  But that’s not possible.  Life as we know it would cease to exist.

So the next time you seek to degrade country music, think about how it relates to you and your life (because I guarantee that it will).  If you do that I suspect your mind will change faster than it takes Colt Ford to down a bucket of fried chicken.


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