Friday, November 16, 2007

old and new country

I love country music. There is, however, a caveat. I love old country music. Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline--those are the artist I grew up knowing as "country". They tell stories, stories about cowboys and jilted lovers, about pain and loss, suffering and love. Now, I have friends who listen to (what I call) new country. Toby Keith, Keney Chesney and whomever else they play on the country station here. The songs all sound the same to me and have only one emotion, nostalgia. They can all be summed up with the idea that one grew up in a small town, one misses a small town, meeting a girl/guy (here is some difference) either in a small town or in a big city (so you miss the small town together), and being happy that one is from said small town. There may be a throwback to first loves or throwing a baseball with your father or, if one if feeling especially patriotic, some talk of "being all you can be" (since even they know Army Strong and Army of One don't make for a good chorus). I don't intend to lump all new country together, but two of my best friends listen to that exclusively...after three hours in the car with them, I can't help but generalize.

I miss the old Country, when the songs told stories that stirred the heart, not just tugged at the heart strings. I wonder when things changed and why it is they stopped writing them the way they used to. Is the audience different or the artists, or is it just what sells now? In any case, I'm going to go to sleep tonight listening to Red Headed Stranger. I remember growing up when my parents would play Willie Nelson getting upset because I wanted to listen to whatever crappy artist was popular at the time (I'm sure it was probably MC Hammer or Mariah Carey) and I could listen to Willie sing and I can hear his voice echo over the vast desert. His voice seems to carry with it the weight of all the loners and drifters who ever made their way West. Like an audible Georgia O'Keefe poster, his music is solitary and lonely. It stands on its own and says what he wants it to say without hitting one over the head with a blunt object. Beautiful and sparse, like the desert or plains themselves...Toby Keith can't hold a candle.


Blogger buckarooskidoo said...

I'm not sure I really like country music, as you obviously do, but some of those country song titles are priceless, e.g. "I don't know whether to commit suicide tonight or go bowlin," "Drop kick me, jesus, through the goalposts of life," "She's acting single, I'm drinkin' doubles."

Also, this is a uniquely American music genre...people overseas always like it when you bring them some.

8:10 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

I personally think it has to do with the drastic urbanization our country has been going through for the last several decades. The rural cultures that gave birth to country music, and made those classic songs seem so natural, are disappearing from the map. Now the genre is trying to survive in a time where most people not only live in cities but have completely forgotten what living in the country ever was, and listeners to country stations as likely to be driving a brand new SUV as a beat-up pickup truck. And so the writing falls back on tired stereotypes and knee-jerk nostalgia, or occasionally makes fumbling attempt to incorporate urban experiences.

But maybe it's just the people producing for the big commercial markets that have stumbled on this problem. I find that you can still encounter great country music, old and new, played by unknown local bands in tiny bars in cities and small towns, any Thursday night.

8:10 AM  

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