Friday, October 20, 2006

The Friday Rant: Why I Loathe Country Music

I am guessing that I could have picked a more aesthetically pleasing topic for my first Instrumental Analysis post – especially with one half of the founding members being based in Texas – but this is a topic that I have wanted to rant about for some time.

I haven’t always hated country music. My mother hails from the Kentucky hills, long postulated by ethnomusicologists as the birthplace of what would become known as "country". Mom played the Philadelphia-based country radio station a ton when I was a kid. Many of the songs seemed fairly catchy, if homogenous, and I had no real problem with the genre. Today, I love Johnny Cash, enjoy a lot of rockabilly and I can even tolerate some Willie Nelson.

The popularity of “country” music has grown exponentially in the last 10 years. Many artists have pushed to the front of the mainstream media. Advertisers utilize country artists and songs to push their wares in national ad campaigns for everything from pickup trucks to underwear and everything in between (don't even get me started on NASCAR.) However, if there is a greater poseur music form than country music, I have yet to see or hear it. Almost everything about the genre smacks of fraud. Be it the cowboy hats, boots, forced/fake accents and drawls, the shameless formulaic composition of almost every song, or the lemming-like “patriotic” tripe that this music scene has generated – I find country music to be nigh-intolerable and mostly nauseating.

I had a radio show in college where my co-host (IA's very own, Mike) and I performed a bit where we would see how long we could keep from laughing while listening to a random Napalm Death song. We never made it through one, and I am guessing that we would have failed similarly should we have tried this experiment with most of the drivel that is being packaged as "today's country". However, instead of laughter - most of the samplings I have attempted to listen through make me bitter. It was widely theorized that the Columbine school massacre was perpetrated by two youths who listened to too much Marilyn Manson. I am now convinced that the recent spate of school shootings are byproducts of too much Toby Keith and Carrie Underwood. Jesus, Take the Wheel. I need to reload.

As Andre Agassi used to say, “Image is everything”. Nowhere is this more evident, than in the world of country music. The intolerant, xenophobic world of country is a poseur-infested disgrace. Why does every male country artist have to wear a cowboy hat and boots, regardless of where they are from (see Cowboy Troy)? What in the name of Wyatt Earp is going on here?!? Some of these hat-wearing wannabe cowpokes are from California and Maryland. Did they wear these get-ups before getting signed to their record labels? In most cases, no. It would appear that these guys are forced to don the cowboy costumes in order to be accepted as true country artists. Yee-frickety-haw!

Speaking of fake, what in tarnation is up with all of the fake accents that rampage across the country music landscape? What other musical form requires singers to force an accent that is not evident when the artist uses their normal speaking voice? I happened to catch Sara Evans’ exit interview on Dancing With the Stars on Wednesday night - while waiting for Lost to start. Ms. Evans spoke with just the slightest hint of a southern accent, and one would have to be listening pretty intently to pick it up. I jumped online immediately after Lost to sample some of her work, and wouldn’t you know I was shocked to hear her belting out song after song in an overbearing twang that is apparently only present when she sings. Country musicians do not have a monopoly on this sort of silliness by any means (see Matisyahu), but country has by far the highest per capita fakery rate in all of musicdom.

American music history is filled with patriotic songs and anthems – most of which were inspired by world events that affected our country in some way. 9/11 has been very good to country music. No musical genre or media entity got more mileage out of 9/11 than the flag-wavin’, terrorist hatin’, President lovin’ proud cowboy hat wearin’ performers of good ol’ country music. I think there might have been a cannonball run-esque pickup truck race to the recording studios on 9/12/01 to see who could get the cheesiest, sappiest tear-jerker recorded and in the hands of radio stations the quickest. Alan Jackson’s beloved 9/11 anthem asks “Where Were You? (When the World Stopped Turning)”. Where, indeed? You can’t help but admire how much country musicians just love America to death! It can be said with certainty that there are no Al Qaeda operatives masquerading as country musicians. Country music is the voice of the proud southern American. It is the beacon of pride in our American values. Country loves America, God and family. No other group has expressed their love for our country more than country music artists. And expressed it some more. And expressed it again. And again. We get it. The south loves God, guns, freedom, family and the American values our troops fight and die for. Everything, that is, except some of the Founding Fathers’ most important ideals – you know, like freedom of speech. This brings me to the mind-blowing phenomenon of the Dixie Chicks.

The Dixie Chicks were once the beloved poster-children for country music. They were cute, wholesome, they twanged properly, they were from a respectable country music state (Texas), they wore the requisite boots (and hats) and met just about all acceptable country music requirements. Then one night during a concert in London, one of them voiced shame over being from the same state as our Glorious Leader, President Bush (who happened to have been catching heat for being caught lying concerning his reasoning for invading a foreign country at the time). When word of this vocal mini-protest got back to the States, an interesting thing happened. The Dixies were branded “Traitors to Country Music”. Many country radio stations yanked the Dixie Chicks from their play lists. Country music fans turned out in droves for mass Dixie Chicks CD tractor-smashings while others took to burning their Chicks CDs. CD burnings in the United States! It may as well have been Berlin in the early 1930s. So, Where Were You? (When the CDs Burned), Alan Jackson? Achtung, y'all!

Music is the voice of culture. Country music is proudly embraced as the voice of the (white) South. If we listen to the voice of this culture it tells us a lot about its people. They frown on change. They like everyone to look and sound the same. Are there any redeeming graces for a musical genre that forces its artists to sing with fake accents, dress like cow-people even if they have never seen a cow up close, who march in “patriotic” unquestioning lockstep rhythm (goosestep?) with an out of control regime by serving as its mouthpiece and who jettisons artists for merely exercising freedom of speech? Right now, I am sad to say no. There will be no saving grace for country music until its talented artists are freed to sing in their own voices, vary from the current themes that dominate the scene, and allowed to stop dressing up like cowboys.

Johnny Cash & Nick Cave - I'm So Lonesome, I Could Cry

Beck - Your Cheatin' Heart (Hank Williams Cover)



Blogger markymert said...

made me laugh. and i like the belt buckle with the racist flag on the guitars. they say the flag is a symbol of southern pride. but it is a symbol of proslavery ignorance, racial driven murder and anti-northernism to those who don't try and strain to justify its' existance. but since it is overwhelmingly white people in power down there they can rationalize with political bs and that is that. i am mostly german and i wouldnt dare try and sell the "S cross" flag as anything but what it is...a racist, antisemetic, murderous flag.

sorry, but the flag makes me angry. it was a good column. i agree with a lot, not all. but it made me laugh.


Friday, October 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your examples of suppression of Freedom of Speech are a tad misguided, imho. I believe you're confusing government suppression of freedom of speech with an individual citizens' freedom of speech. How does one citizen suppress the Dixie Chick's freedom of speech by not buying their records or attending their concerts, or burning their cds etc? Sounds to me like that citizen is expressing their freedom of speech. I didn't see any example of the US government banning anything. I guess freedom of speech only works for some citizens? No? Just askin'...

Friday, October 20, 2006  
Blogger J said...

We brought Vince on board, because he stirs shit up. You do not have to agree with him (I certainly do not agree with everything that he says), but he provokes conversation and isn't that the point? Thanks for commenting and please continue to do so. I have seen some of the things that he plans to do in the coming weeks and they will most likely cause controversy. When he pisses you off or causes you to nod your head in agreement, tell us why. We appreciate it and thanks for reading.

Friday, October 20, 2006  

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