Saturday, April 04, 2009


I decided I needed to make my 1,500th blog post something truly special for you. So.... my goddamned liberal elitist RANT MODE is definitely ON! It's time for some great big sweeping generalizations, and for all kinds of inflammatory writing. So let's have some fun here, people!

I LOATHE today's "country music". It makes my skin crawl. I see it as little more than pop music played with fiddles and steel guitars thrown in, so as to dress it up in fake cowboy garb. It is sung by singers who use an artificial-sounding "twang", to give it that "honest" feel. "All hat, no cattle" indeed!

Where did this gawdawful crap come from? Was Hank Williams, Jr. (the crawly "A Country Boy Can Survive") born when his father Hank Williams (the magnificant "Honky Tonkin"and "Your Cheatin' Heart") took a massive, distressed dump?

Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh on Hank, Jr. As much as I find the majority of his musical output to be creepy-crawly, at least it does have a little bit of grit to it. But his stuff helped serve as a progenitor (or laxative, if you will) to more recent musical bowel phenomena such as the I''m-coming-to-kick-your-ass" schtick of Toby Keith, just as much as others during Hank, Jr.'s zenith (maybe like Alabama? Nah, I can't pick on those guys, I like them too much) greased the skids for the polished, packaged, candied-up road-apple goods like Lonestar and Rascal Flatts.

Some of my bias may be because I come from a rural area, and seeing all the phony outfits the singers wear and the wimpy musical material they produce just about makes me physically ill. I find nary an ounce of rural authenticity in it. I doubt that many of the performers could tell the difference between cow shit and horse shit if their lives depended on it. Have they ever ridden horses, or even seen cattle?

The subject matter of the lyrics of modern "country"? It's pablum. For a while it seemed like most "country" lyrics had gone the way of rock and roll, i.e. dealing mostly with sex... and in "country's" case, with lots of lyrics about marital infidelity. Nowadays if "country" songs get topical, they are little more than goofballish saccharine ditties about heartwarming family moments (like how a sudden stop in the car caused the little boy's "happy meal" to spill, for gawdsakes... many non-thanks to Rodney Atkins for that one with his massive hit "Watching You"...) The words might be about how "country" the object of the singer's affection is. Or maybe it's Toby Keith-type stuff, just simple blabbering about some neopatriotic post-"9-11" thing.

Most all of that stuff can be fun in small doses, but a steady diet of it? Whoa, talk about brain-rot. I would just as soon listen to unintelligible Rap or mindless Heavy Metal, or even hours and hours of Polka music or Swiss yodeling.

I will say a couple of things in modern "country" music's defense. The musicianship is usually impeccable, and the music itself is nearly always melodic. The musicians are often amazingly good, and the songwriters and arrangers expertly create melodic hooks and "earworms" that will stay with the listener for days (for better, or for very worse!) For those things I believe modern "country" music cannot be faulted. But for my tastes, the general mindlessness underlying it ruins its good qualities.

Dave Barry once said something like "The complexity of the line dance is inversely proportional to the collective IQ of those performing it." I think he nailed it. Modern country music is about as mindless as it gets.

And if calling it mindless makes me a "liberal elitist", well then... in the words of Hank, Jr., "I'd love to spit some beechnut in that dude's eyes, and shoot him with my old 45, 'cause a country boy can survive."

In the last 15-20 years I think "country music" has come to be driven way too much by social and political conservatism. If you believe in God, then get on your knees and give your thanks to Him. Not for "country music" itself, but for a few of the "country" musicians who feel free to express themselves politically in America (a nation in which I have always thought such freedom of political expression should be valued, by the way). The Dixie Chicks and Steve Earle come immediately to mind as Country "lefties", but there are others, Tim McGraw for one. Lesser-known Country artists such as the Austin Lounge Lizards are decidedly leftist. If you turn over enough stones, you will find a few of them.

So is the world of "country" more right-wing than Hollywood is supposedly left-wing? I think it is. The right wing's social conservatives love to make Hollywood it's whipping boy, and I suppose many of us on the left make things like "country" music and NASCAR our own things to unmercifully beat upon. Oh well, it's all relative, isn't it! Nyah, nyah, nyah.

Should the Dixie Chicks have paid such a price for their words when they were publicly critical of George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01? I think not, but it seems like a lot of "country" fans practically wanted to crucify them. Which is worse? Simply saying something that isn't nice about the president during national tough times, or basically getting convicted of treason in the public court of "country" opinion for saying those things? The Chicks got the latter, and Gol' durn it, that sounds a lot more like Red China than America t' me!!! But hey, that's "country".

Give me the music of Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Asleep at the Wheel, Hank Williams, the Carter family, Roy Acuff, Merle Haggard, some of Loretta Lynn's music, or some good tradtional American Bluegrass music... THAT is some REAL Country.

Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, weed-addled hippies though they were, played some damned fine Country and Swing in the 70s. I also enjoyed a fair amount of songs by Willie Nelson and Wayon Jennings during the 70s and 80s; good voices, not militant about politics, all just very pleasing to my ear.

Or give me some of the more recent "crossover" stuff that has a creative bent, like the music of Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakum, Ryan Adams or even the music of "alternative country" bands such as Old 97s, Jayhawks, Son Volt or Uncle Tupelo.

But please, give me none of the processed, stamped and packaged "country" crap that comes out of today's Nashville. It's the musical equivalent of a puppy mill. And for me, listening to it is the auditory equivalent of having my teeth drilled.

And DAMN you Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, et al for playing such a big part in the creation of the ugly hybrid "country music" monster we have today. Whether or not we care to admit it now, artists like those, as much as some of us "boomers" liked them way back when, played a huge part in paving the way for what we see and hear today. As much as I liked them then, today I view them as a large part of the problem.

HELP!! The COUNTRY MUSIC monster is upon us! We can't let it infiltrate any more genres of our music! We must ISOLATE IT, DESTROY IT! HELP US!!!!

Seriously though, I think this monster has gone about as far as it can. After all, we are in the Digital Music Age. How many lovers of today's "country" music are going to own computers or know how to download the music? Sales should, thankfully, plummet.

O.K., O.K., I'll be nice. It isn't just real rural folks (who tend to be nice and to have computers and know how to use them, by the way!) who have been sucked into the modern "country" thing. There are also millions of non-rural Americans who want to buy into the fake "country" image this crap portrays, for whatever reason. Do those people think they're somehow connecting with a kind of "age of lost American innocence", or that they are tapping into some similar profoundly fool thing concocted just for them by the charlatans of today's "country music" industry?

I think many rural folks are a lot smarter than the urban "country wannabes", and I believe real Country is, by definition, rural. So maybe at some point rural America will clean up its musical act by spurning Nashville's massive outflow of human bodily waste disguised as music. Really, there should be very little "rural" in all the glitz and glamour of the Trisha Yearwoods and Carrie Underwoods for all the Woody Peckerwoods out there to connect with.

After all, as much as many rural Americans connect with the fabricated but underlying unifying social/political right-wing concepts in "country" music and all things "country", certainly they must also be laughing their asses off at those city-born-and-bred types who try to be "country". And sooner or later, as they laugh, the rural adherents to this sad "country" music doctrine may realize they are also laughing at themselves. When that happens, maybe our great nation will turn a musical corner... and "country" will once again become Country.

The fakiness has to reach a saturation point somewhere, sometime. I hope the time comes very soon. Otherwise, the "country music" terrorists win, and we become a nation of mindless, stumbling, socially-conservative autobots.

Or maybe we are already there. Maybe modern American "country" music is more a manifestation of what has happened to America in the last 30 years than it is a causative agent of our social dysfunction. Whichever the case may be, I find it TRAGIC.

Modern American "country" music is a TRAGEDY, plain and simple.

Many grateful thanks to you for the valuable time you took to read this vicious diatribe. 8-)

And finally, the "country" question for the ages... and it has an answer!!

Q: How can you tell one modern "country" song from another"?
A: By the title.




Blogger J. Marquis said...

Great post, Snave. I agree with your feelings about most modern country music. It's truly lowest common denominator pablum with jut a bit of jingoism thrown in for seasoning.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Lew Scannon said...

I think artists like Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Pee Wee King, Lefty Frizzell or Johnny Cash weren't consciously playing "country" music, it was just a label applied to it by those who felt the need to pigeonhole everything. No, I think they were just playing music, adorned with instruments popular in rural areas, fiddles, guitars, banjos, etc., that were easy to carry from town to town, gig to gig. As country music grew in popularity, the need to replicate that sound grew, and "country" acts felt they needed to play them in order to sound "authentic".
As for the lyrical content, most of early country wasn't quite so jingoistic, with the exception of maybe Red Foley. When an artist wrote a song like "The Tennessee Waltz" they were trying to write a song to the audience they knew because they were playing to them in small barn dances or town halls, not in some large arena. Most early country musicians and writers weren't looking to get rich, only to make a living doing what they loved best.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Carlos said...

Great rant, Snave! I despise what is passed off as country music these days. It’s almost as awful as the record-company-created “stars.”

Between the ages of 10 and 20, (1972-1982) I lived in rural Maricopa County, Arizona. The land of tumbleweeds, summer monsoons, cactus, huge dust storms, scorching heat, horses, ranches, the FFA, and compulsory agriculture class in high school. I got more than a lion’s share of exposure to good country music.

My daughter started her “country” music phase a little over a year ago. At the peak of her phase, I began exposing her to real country music and musicians, including Hank Williams, Roger Miller, Freddy Fender, Charlie Pride, Chet Atkins, Marty Robbins, etc.

Here in Central Texas, there’s plenty of real country music to be had (though there’s more and more of that new-fangled country shit around every day) at places like Gruene Hall (pronounced green), John T. Floore Country Store, Leon Springs Dance Hall, and any number of small joints around the Alamo City.

Country musicians I’ll listen to any time are (off the top of my head): Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, Randy Travis (perhaps the last pop country musician that was still country), Tom T. Hall, Jim Stafford…well, that’s about all I can think of right now.

Have a great Sunday

6:11 AM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

Lew Scannon makes a great point..the old timers were just playing music, not consciously catering to a targeted demographic audience.

I think you really had a similiar situation with rock music in the late 80's. Hair metal was the standard fare of the day and alternative music was created by people who wanted to express themselves in more sincere, original ways.

Unfortunately, I don't see the same process happening with country music. The vast majority of the audience is too culturally conservative to go looking for the country equivalent of an REM or Nirvana.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Lew Scannon said...

And I always though line dancing was for people who found square dancing to be too complicated.....

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great and accurate rant!!! And intersting point by Lew, too -- hadn't thought of it that way, but it sounds dead on.

That said, I like quite a lot of the alt-country stuff out there. I slide more to the singer-songwriter end of the scale with it, typically, but some of the band stuff is cool, too.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

I'm not a country fan anyway, but I agree that most of the modern "country" is pretty slick and phony.

I actually like Hank Jr. He and Johnny Paycheck have a sort of earthy, almost "bluesy" sound. (To my ears anyway.)

Have you ever heard of a country singer-guitarist named Junior Brown? Or maybe you mentioned him in your post and I missed it. I saw him on Austin City Limits a long time ago. I hadn't heard of him before and I haven't heard anything else by him since then. His songs were pretty generic, but his guitar playing was incredible. He sounded like he was channeling Hendrix, Joe Pass and Chet Atkins all at the same time.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Mercurie said...

Well, I have to be honest. I really don't see much difference in the country music of the present and that of the past. When I was growing up country music was centred pretty much on divorce, drinking, and prison, none of which was really true to rural life as I knew it. To me today's country artists pretty much belong to the same continuum as Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, and so on. I am not sure country music has ever been genuine, at least since the advent of the Nashville Sound.

Of course, here I have to point out that I never did like country music. The only artists labelled country I have ever liked were Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Marty Robbins. But then I see Cash as transcending genre, Patsy Cline as a torch singer, and Marty Robbins as a Western singer (he's closer to Gene Autry and Roy Rogers than Chet Atkins and Dottie West).

6:19 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

I forgot to add in my earlier comment: when the Dixie Chicks were "banned" from so many radio stations, I never thought that was because of country fans. Clear Channel at that time owned hundreds of country radio stations, and their CEO was a Dumbya worshipper. He instructed all of his stations to ban the Dixie Chicks. I have no idea how many other country listeners were that worked up over their comments or not.

12:09 AM  
Blogger 1138 said...

one word Grand Old Opry

It destroyed country

8:39 AM  
Blogger Demeur said...

I've only heard real country once or twice in my life. It was the music played in the back hills of Tenn., Ky. Ga. and the like. It was passed from great great grandpa to son and on down the line. It came from the old country and if you listen carefully you'll hear a bit of Irish jig and a few other native country folk sounds.
I think you have it right Lew. The audience was a barn dance or for home entertainment.

9:29 AM  
Blogger C Woods said...

Oh, I so agree about country music ---but then, I can't stand most of ANY popular music these days. The only slightly positive thing about country is that it is the only music since 1990 I can understand the lyrics to, if the lyrics were only worth a listen. That being said, I admit I like some of the old time country such as that in "O Brother, Where art Thou?" I have a friend from Ireland who plays what he calls Paddygrass---a combination of traditional Irish and bluegrass ---mostly his own compositions that tell wonderful stories. I still like "folk" music from the 60s. And, as schmaltsy as the lyrics are, I admit I'm a sucker for Patsy Cline.

11:51 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Tom H- Junior Brown is one of the best country pickers around. He's got more musical talent than anyone my wife makes me listen to on the local "country" station.
And Snave, all "modern" country music is is pop with a fiddle sung by underwear models.

3:08 PM  

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