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Country Music: Love it, or Leave it
I am old enough to remember when Country Music was still “three chords and the truth.” Now it’s a bunch of frat boys in 300 dollar flannel lying about tractors through exaggerated accents. Most of whom probably think Massey Ferguson is a drag queen from lower Manhattan.
When the fellas from Fort Payne released “Song of the South” in 1989, they produced pure poetry, channeling the struggles and successes of real people who came from real places. “Daddy got a job with the TVA / He bought a washing machine and a Chevrolet.” What we have now sounds like it was cooked up in Hong Kong by some engineer feeding pages from Seventeen into an algorithm. The result is a synthetic blend of imitation denim, reject pop, and estrogen. To borrow from Waylon, I’m pretty sure Hank didn’t do it thisaway.
I reckon that the problem stems, in large part, from a lack of institutional memory. Modern Country is an aimless, rootless something or other that has no recollection of where it came from. It has forgotten the haggard faces of its fathers and the mournful voices of its mothers. It can’t even remember the year that Clayton Delaney died.
Country Music found commercial success around the turn of the century but now can’t seem to recall what got it there. George Jones, who may have been the living embodiment of every great country song rolled into one, couldn’t even get his albums played on the radio at the end of his career. He lived along enough to be country when country wasn’t cool, when it was cool, and when it was cool as long as it was no longer country. The Possum still sang the way that a steel guitar sounds, but that high-lonesome sound had become passé. Now, Country Music is as “country” as a tie-died turtleneck.
I wish this new crop of artistes would just leave country music alone, or just leave it altogether. Give it back to men with dirt under their fingernails and fire in their bellies. Give it back to the women who know a thing or two about unsought independence being thrust upon them through sheer necessity. Give it back to the people who still know that the only things in life that are worth a solitary dime are old dogs and children and watermelon wine. Give country music back to country people. Lord knows, we still have some sad stories to tell.
The Possum once haunted the airwaves, singing of the Okie from Muskogee, the Red-Headed Stranger, the Man in Black and “Folsom Prison Blues,” leaving a pointed question burning in our ears: Who’s gonna fill their shoes? Well, it remains to be seen if there will be anyone worthy to fill them, but I can guarantee you it won't be anyone who thinks those men wore Gucci loafers.
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