THREE REASONS WHY I LIKE COUNTRY MUSIC
Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist (Random Walks)
and author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and
Identity and Hear,
O Israel! (Mantua Books). His editorials appear
regularly in frontpagemag.com and
PJ Media. His monograph, Global Warning:
The Trials of an Unsettled Science (Freedom Press Canada)
was launched at the National Archives in Ottawa in September,
2012. His debut album, Blood
Guitar, is now available.
I was younger, I thought country music was beneath me: I didn’t
listen to it much and felt contempt for the idea of it.
day, I was in a convenience store buying some smokes for the
road, and I happened to pick up a Brooks & Dunn CD, having
no idea how famous they were or, indeed, who they were at all.
For some mysterious reason — or was it just serendipity
at work — I figured the CD might give me a few ideas for
my own songs.
immediately hooked. What I came to like in Brooks & Dunn,
and in other country singers I have learned to admire —
George Jones, George Strait, Alan Jackson, Jimmy Buffett, Tim
McGraw, and many more — are the following:
Country music is not obsessed with the new, continually declaring
a previous generation “dead.” Instead, it honors
its ancestors and traditions.
There has developed, to be sure, some conflict between “Traditional”
and “Bro,” the latter preoccupied with girls, trucks,
high fives and six packs, but the root note of the country chord,
so to speak, remains inheritance and customary usage. Songs
like Brooks and Dunn’s “Johnny Cash Junkie (Buck
Owens Freak)” comprise a joyful pastiche of country songs
and motifs, affirming pride in roots (appropriately rhyming
with “boots”) that go back at least fifty years.
greats who established country’s traditions are both a
source of solace (as for Alan Jackson in “Don’t
Rock the Jukebox,” whose sore heart needs George Jones
rather than the Rolling Stones) and an ever-present reminder
of the past (as for Jackson, again, when he encounters the ghost
of Hank Williams, with his “haunting haunted eyes,”
and declares him “always singing there” in “Midnight
is none of the sense of needing to disavow and declare outmoded
those singers who “walked the line” before. Country
singers do not appear to suffer — as do their literary
counterparts — from what Harold Bloom has called “The
Anxiety of Influence.” They are not invested in recovering,
as Bloom phrases it, “the prestige of origins [to] open
the possibility of one’s own sublimity” so much
as in celebrating their precursors and elaborating what they
have contributed to the great library of themes and melodies.
In the Bloomian context, we might say that the difference between
the writer and the singer is the difference between resentment
and gratitude, between intimidation and respect. Innovation,
when it happens, need not supplant country’s forefathers.
Far from what I once thought, country music lyrics are not stodgy
and sentimental: though they give the sentimental its due, they
are often sharp, pungent, profound, and — perhaps most
surprising to me — witty and tongue-in-cheek.
of Tim McGraw singing “The Cowboy in Me” in which
the persona is confronted with “the face that’s
in the mirror / when I don’t like what I see . . . “
or the high-spirited nostalgia of “Back When,” recalling
a more decorous time when “a screw was a screw and the
wind was all that blew.”
also Brooks & Dunn’s evocation of a place both magically
“North of Heaven” and geographically “South
of Santa Fe,” with its combination of dreamy romanticism
and piquant irony. Anyone who has ever been hopelessly tongue-tied
by desire appreciates the perfectly articulated chagrin of the
Zac Brown Band line, “my heart won’t tell my mind
to tell my mouth what it should say” (“As She’s
who couldn’t love Jimmy Buffet’s alcohol-fueled
befuddlement as he wastes away in “Margaritaville,”
searching “for my lost shaker of salt,” or the on-the-rebound
bravura of Brooks & Dunn’s “We’ll Burn
that Bridge” (“when we get there”). Best of
all, perhaps, is the poignant irony of George Jones’s
“He Stopped Loving Her Today” — by some accounts,
the greatest country song of all time — which is both
devastating and wry. Country musicians take their audience and
their subject seriously enough to write about what is perennially
meaningful — emotional crises, sorrow and joy, the redemption
of love, the value of hard work and faith — while rarely
taking themselves too seriously.
Most importantly, country music loves America and cares about
those Americans in fly-over country whom sophisticated New Yorkers,
west coast freaks and MSNBC listeners love to hate, such as
the farmers, ranchers, truck drivers, housewives, soldiers,
mechanics, pastors, shopkeepers, carpenters, waitresses, and,
of course, cowboys who still build and repair and work the land.
to mention raising families, and going to church, and fighting
the wars that keep other Americans safe (at least for now).
“Love your country and live with pride/And don’t
forget those who died/America can’t you see?/All gave
some and some gave all,” sings Billy Ray Cyrus in “Some
Gave All.” Merle Haggard goes even further, warning those
who “love our milk an’ honey [but] preach about
some other way of livin’ …and runnin’ down
my country” that “they’re walkin’ on
the fightin’ side of me” (“The Fightin’
Side of Me”).
“Small Town Southern Man,”Alan Jackson pays tribute
to generations of simple people for whom “calloused hands
told the story.” Bucky Covington’s “A Different
World” is a wistful reminiscence of a time when “school
always started the same everyday/the pledge of allegiance, then
someone would pray.” (It should come as no surprise that
Democraticundergound.com appraises it as “the worst country
song ever.”) Country music honors parents and the generations
that came before. It believes there are still American values
worth fighting for. And it makes beautiful, memorable music
out of its faith in those people and that land.
this regard, country music is a welcome antitoxin to the malignant
spirit of decay and subversion that has permeated the cultural,
political and institutional life of America today. Country music
is a gift that America has given itself. It is a kind of anthem
of the Republic. May it continue to work its power.