Point-counterpoint.

Point — Luke Bryan, recommending an environment for listening to his new album, due out today:

Put it in the truck and ride around and sit on a creek bank and drink some beer and listen to it.

Wow, these new singers are every bit as full of clichés as their songs are, it would seem.

Counterpoint — Texas artist Ryan Turner, on the proliferation of the “I’m so country, it’s so awesome and you’re so not” songs:

My problem with modern country is that so much of it is segregating. It’s all this yelling about “I’m a redneck” and “I’m country” and “I’ll kick your ass if you’re not like me.” That’s not the tradition of country music.

He’s right. I think, though, that country music aimed a lot higher in the olden days. It wasn’t just pandering to a certain demographic but talking about certain universal, undeniable truths, and it sounded just as good with a hot cup of coffee on the couch as it did with a beer down by the river. (Which is what I’d opt for these days, considering the mercury’s been shooting past the 100-degree mark with alarming regularity lately.)

Speaking of which, if there’s any truth to what Luke Bryan says about his new album, it seems to indicate boring, trite, one-dimensional music — pretty much exactly what we’ve been getting in general for the last few years from the likes of Jason Aldean, Justin Moore, etc. One of the commenters at Country California observed that he thought the kinds of songs Ryan Turner referred to “would be divisive and anger city dwelling country fans, but apparently not enough to prevent them from getting airplay.”  To twist my reply, I think that opinion shows an overestimation of the intelligence of “country” fans who dig those kinds of songs.

Harsh? Sure it is. But the evidence speaks for itself.

(h/t Country California)

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7 Responses to “Point-counterpoint.”

  1. AeroDillo Says:

    Oh good. Somebody else noticed.

    Can’t remember if it was here or somewhere else (probably here) but somewhere back in the ether I made a comment that pop country has streamlined itself into a handful of categories; I’m a hick and we love Jesus; I’m a working man; I’m a country girl; I’m Taylor Swift and everything is magical (except for mean people).

    I mean, seriously. You write a song about picking up your girlfriend and a case of beer and going down to drink it by the creek Saturday night and dragging yourself to church Sunday.

    How is this unique to country? Hell, I’m pretty sure they got rivers in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. They probably got girls, too. And despite being the refuge of ‘them damn stupid city slickers’ I’m sure they have swarms of uneducated people with poor hygiene and a subpar grasp of the English language who like to drink. And -gasp- there’s maybe even some churches up that way.

    Artistically speaking, if you mean to sing about something I think you’ve got two major obligations. First is the material. Second is the listeners. I’m pretty sure if you offer a quality product it’ll find an audience, whereas if you’re shooting for a preset audience (i.e., country music fans) you’ve quicked yourself out of the gate. Your song can never be anything special because it’s pigeonholed from the get-go. At that point you’ve got a three-legged racehorse.

    The whole point of a song (hell, all art) is to make a connection with the audience. To make listeners feel something besides irritation and the urge to switch channels. You do that by grabbing hold of the listener somehow. You make them see things they might not have seen before.

    But you have to lead them. You can’t nag them or bombard them with mindless stupid shit. That’s what commercials are for, and that’s why nobody watches television or listens to the radio for the advertisements.

    I can’t speak for anybody else, but I listen for things that tell me a story or make me laugh or get across finely tuned sense of melancholy. Not so I can listen to some canned-in-Nashville cracker bragging on his hick cred.

  2. southtexaspistolero Says:

    pop country has streamlined itself into a handful of categories; I’m a hick and we love Jesus; I’m a working man; I’m a country girl; I’m Taylor Swift and everything is magical (except for mean people).

    Pretty much. But of course, there are the New Country fanboys and fangirls who are going to defend this stuff. A few posts up I talked about one of those songs that was stuffed with warm and fuzzy cliches about the small town — quarterback dating homecoming queen, Ford trucks, green tractors, that sort of thing (I shit you not!). I told Sabra that I remembered having a debate of sorts with someone about that song, and this person said something to the effect that “there are people who can relate to that.” Which is true, granted, but there are just as many of us, for example, who relate more to the gritty honesty of Cross Canadian Ragweed’s “17.” More thoughts on that here and here.

  3. AeroDillo Says:

    Heh. Well put (though there’s something hinky with your second link – don’t work from this end).

    I’m not sure what happened with country music, even though I was around and halfway paying attention in the years it began to the slide.

    I remember listening as a little kid and remembering songs that, however simplistic they might have been, were both catchy and more reflective of life in general, at least as I knew it. It didn’t hurt the singer was doing more than talking into a microphone, which I’m pretty sure is 99% of all music these days.

    But yeah. There were funny songs. There were sad songs. There were songs of hope and hopelessness, of faith and busted faith, and stories that played out in a world world that hadn’t been shorn of its sharp edges. Ironically, despite the best efforts of most of today’s wannabe-country outlaws, they all all live in a bright, sunshine-y hick bubble that’s wholly alien to me.

    And I grew up the sticks. Believe me – there’s very few songs I’ve heard on country radio that accurately reflect that. We had shitkickers, yes, but I think they were outnumbered by the stoner crowd. The people I knew who went out drinking on Saturday were more likely to listen to death metal. Less than half the student population drove a pickup. More than a few were into drugs beyond recreational use.

    So when I hear songs about the magical enchantments of growing up rural I have to wonder how much you have to drink before those rose-colored glasses kick in.

    Taylor Swift’s…well, anything? She was that needy girl everybody knew. Not too tough on the eyes, but so wrapped up in Disney-princess horseshit that she was never going to happy.

    The crowd who’s forever on about their truck? Those are the assholes that’d go mudding in some farmer’s fields and make it look like a whole herd of wild hogs had been by. Major drag for the dude and his livelihood, but hey – small town good clean fun, you know?

    Kenny Chesney and the boys of fall? Oh ho ho. I have a special hatred for that bunch. Not because I envied them, but because they didn’t even to have to win to get breaks. Ours acted – and were treated – as princes, even when they were coming off an unprecedented losing streak. Believe it or not, meatheads, our little community is not centered around you. Football is NOT the only thing this town has going for it. Win some games for once, dammit.

    The women who brag about standing up to their men? Okay. I’m fine with not taking shit in a relationship. But in real life a lot of what’s passed for humor in songs qualifies as psychotic behavior. Especially when it makes the weekly crime report.

    Respecting your elders? Yeah, okay. I can kind of see the logic here. There’s a lot of older people I know that are flat-out awesome. Except, you know, that there’s a lot of old farts who carry a blanket disregard for anybody younger than them. When he was younger, one of our neighbors used to get together with his friends and ride horses around predominately-black churches while waving rifles. I never got word of anybody in my class doing that, but…elders being betters and all.

    There’s a fair few who brag about going to church. And that’s fine. I got no problem with faith. What concerns me is when your church is more concerned with being Baptist than Christian, and when you wind up with a theologically unsound windbag who’s essentially fleecing the congregation. Or when it’s populated by people with a brittle and self-righteous kind of faith. It’s a good thing Jesus loves you, because the majority of southern Baptists were pretty sure you were going to hell.

    Now…all the above is dated, admittedly. But I’m pretty sure you used to hit similar things on the radio. People talked about real life then, or at least a close facsimile. Then somewhere in the late nineties maybe you started getting this current crop of no-talents, complete with undertones of righteous small-town living. This despite rampant poverty, obesity, borderline illiteracy, meth cookers, trailer trash, and a parade of domestic disputes listed in the newspaper every Sunday.

    There may be a high ground in this fight. But it ain’t in the sticks. Sorry.

  4. southtexaspistolero Says:

    Once again, AeroDillo, a masterful dissection of the whole small-town dynamic and how it’s twisted to fit the narrative so many of these new country singers advance. I don’t know how much of those dark undercurrents ran through life in the town I grew up in (Texarkana, for the record — the TEXAS side!), but I’m sure they were there.

    Regardless of what life was like above and below the surface, though, I honestly couldn’t wait to get out and see what was beyond the city limits. And once I did, I never wanted to go back. Nothing against Texarkana, but it just couldn’t hold a candle to most of the other parts of Texas I lived in. And now that I think about it, getting out of Texarkana in a way helped me to get past the overweening self-consciousness I had about myself because of my cerebral palsy. I don’t know how many people eventually grow out of such, but being around new people certainly helped me.

    Of course that’s another problem with a lot of these new singers: the trumpeting of the hometown. You see how I was glad to get out of mine and make my home elsewhere. What about people like me? Is Red Dirt music the only place we can go to find music that speaks to us? Not that I have a problem with the Red Dirt music, but mainstream country was that honest once upon a time. And I think that’s what bugs me the most.

  5. AeroDillo Says:

    You bring up an good point. Primarily, that the vast majority of people I’ve met who either lived or were raised in small towns were also the most eager to get out.

    Why? If you’ve been there, you know.

    You know most everybody (and they know you). Everybody is forever into the affairs of everybody else. Really, there’s no future and no jobs that aren’t dead-end. Unless you have some kind of semi-destructive vice there’s really not much to do between getting out of school Friday afternoon and being dragged to church Sunday morning.

    So while our fine young crop of -ahem- talent is singing about how awesome it is to be drinking beer by the river, anybody who’s actually been stuck in that kind of place knows that they’re doing it because it’s the sum total of their entertainment options. Unless of course you’ve got wheels and gas money to go elsewhere for your distractions.

    In regards to my earlier post, I think what screws up the image more than anything isn’t that those bad things happen. I could accept as a teenager that there were bad things in the world. What causes the damage and disillusionment, I think, is that there’s some general understanding those things were to be kept quiet. If it happened, it DIDN’T HAPPEN HERE. Which of course is a weak delusion held together with spit and bailing wire. Nobody believes the prevailing opinion that you all live in a shiny, happy, spotless little slice of rural heaven, especially when you see contrary evidence on a regular basis. Yet the myth persists.

    And that’s what I saw as a teenager. A kind of Green Acres gulag held together with falsehoods and delusion (honestly…this probably had more to do with being a moody teenager than anything else – also, I really hated my high school and read way too damn much).

    Were there good times? Sure. But that doesn’t square up with the whole driving-down-a-dirt-road-with-my-beer-and-my-cowboy-hat-to-pick-up-my-Jesus-loving-girlfriend-to-go-party-at-the-river.

    I’m sure some people had those experiences. And that’s fine. But I’m also pretty sure it wasn’t the norm.

  6. southtexaspistolero Says:

    Unless of course you’ve got wheels and gas money to go elsewhere for your distractions.

    And in Texarkana you had to have a good bit of gas money if you wanted to go elsewhere. Closest city of any decent size was Shreveport, 70 miles away. Longview 90 miles, Tyler 120, Little Rock 140, Dallas 180. And I don’t think that many folks went to Longview or Tyler, because they weren’t THAT much bigger than Texarkana; from what I remember it was pretty much always Dallas. And that was a long damn ride, even if it was all interstate highway.

    I will note that another reason I didn’t share so many of those ridin’-the-backroads memories was that I was spending a lot of my time on the weekends with my grandfather up at his house. And I wasn’t wishing I was anywhere else. I just wish I could have had more of those weekends. Of course that might be another cliche, but at least it hasn’t been ridden like the ones we’re talking about here.

    A kind of Green Acres gulag held together with falsehoods and delusion

    Man, you really do have a way with words. Seriously, though, I’d ill for some songs that talked about the small town’s seamy underbelly. How many of those small towns’ football jocks & cheerleaders were on meth?

  7. AeroDillo Says:

    This is why The Last Picture show (book and movie) is probably the best representation of small-town living I’ve encountered to date. Because even though the proceedings are set in West Texas, McMurtry had a strong enough grasp of his subject matter that he turned out a story that was grounded on universal truth – i.e., small towns are usually dead, boring, and the local talent pool is pretty shallow.

    Country used to be the music of people who led those kinds of lives; hard work meaning you worked twenty years in some kind of industry to retire to a tiny house and a pension in exchange for your health and best years; a pickup and boots being a practical work investment rather than a fashion statement; drinking being the most readily-available escape from the grind rather than a hot-damn-this-is-fun filler between shows; living on a dirt road being a municipal fact instead of a source of bragging rights.

    But those song were about people – well-meaning sometimes, petty, flawed, stupid, good-hearted, misguided, pig-headed hardworking people. Not caricatures in $300 jeans with strategically placed rips and wear marks who look like they’d suffer a critical meltdown if they went a couple of days without their hairdresser and stylist.

    Country musicians back then lived hard. That’s how they were able to sing about fun stuff like going to prison, being addicted to drugs, two-timing on their wives, and shooting men in Reno just to watch them die. They had scars and baggage and years of accrued experience that could be turned into interesting songs, which in turn could be appreciated across a wide audience.

    That’s why, in essence, you could have a ranch hand in Texas, a truck driver in Montana, a Pennsylvania steelworker, a farmer in Iowa, a longshoreman in New York, and a fisherman out of Key West listening to the the same music and thinking –

    “Yeah. Damn right.”

    I miss that music.

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