Monday, August 23, 2010

Country Music Round-Up

I like country music. I mean, I love Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and the rest of the "Outlaw" movement (and who doesn't?), but I like the radio-friendly Nashville stuff too. While I've often disguised this broader appreciation as a desire to "keep track of what the conservatives are up to," it's more sincere than that. Country, perhaps more than any other popular musical style, is about the words—songs tend to have clear messages, and lyrical substance is valued over artsiness and technical skill.

Still, in large part because of that ethos, country remains an extremely useful barometer for what the conservatives are up to. Toward that end, let's see what we can learn from the current Billboard chart:

Luke Bryan: "Rain is a Good Thing"
My daddy spent his life lookin' up at the sky
He'd cuss, kick the dust, sayin' son it's way too dry
It clouds up in the city, the weather man complains
But where I come from, rain is a good thing
The classic "country folk live like this; city folk live like that" song. The point, invariably, is that city folk are so caught up in their busy urban lifestyles that they lose track of what's really important. In this case, it's agriculture, but the larger question is always the same—what else do city-dwellers not understand about life in rural America? Could this narrow-minded hostility toward precipitation also extend to manual labor? Family values? Mud, and the occasional muddiness of one's vehicle, clothes, and other possessions?

And lest we get the impression that city folk have a monopoly on good times, the chorus sets us straight:
Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey
Whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky

Alan Jackson: "Hard Hat and a Hammer"
Average Joe, average pay
Same ol' end and same ol' day

But there's nothing wrong with a hard hat and a hammer
Kind of glue that sticks this world together
Hands of steel and cradle of the Promised Land
God bless the working man
This song is a less divisive variation on the same theme, and it might as well drive the point into your skull with, well, some sort of man-made pounding device. It's modern conservatism at its best—an ode to the millions of people around the world [1] who work hard, sometimes under harsh conditions, to provide for their families. Jackson keeps it positive, avoiding the cheap, crowd-pleasing suggestion that people who don't fit the above description are somehow doing it wrong.

The last line, however, is a bit of a head-scratcher:
Oh, the working man…and woman
The "and woman" sounds so much like an afterthought I can only assume that's how it's meant to sound, and I don't know what to make of that.

Billy Currington: "Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer"
I wasn't born, for diggin' deep holes
I'm not made, for pavin' long roads
I ain't cut out to climb high line poles, but, I'm pretty good at drinkin' beer
A disconcerting twist on the usual "hard work and simple livin' are all I need" theme, in which the necessity of the former is seriously called into question, if not refuted altogether. Of course, it's not so much hard work that Currington is denouncing, but ambition. In a delightfully tongue-in-cheek way, he's saying he'll probably never be great at anything, so he might as well embrace it—have fun, be one of the guys, and work just hard enough to get by.

Lack of ambition is hardly a conservative value, but actual conservative values—being happy with what you have, drinking Bud Light, etc.—are littered throughout the song, and it creates a dichotomy I'm not sure how to reconcile. If you find a profession you're good at and work hard to be successful, doesn't that imply that you weren't totally content with what you had beforehand? And doesn't that generally mean spending less time drinking beer with your friends?

There are only two possible explanations. Either ambition and self-sacrifice are no longer conservative values, or Billy Currington is part of a liberal conspiracy to infiltrate country music and impart socialist views on the inadequacies of capitalism to a traditionally unreceptive audience.[2]

Little Big Town: "Little White Church"
You've been singing, that same old song
Far too long, far too long
Say you'll buy me a shiny ring
But your words don't mean a thing
No more calling me baby
No more loving like crazy

Til' you take me down (take me down)
You better take me down (take me down)
Take me down to the little white church
I'm pretty sure the point here is that traditional values do not become unimportant just because a song comes perilously close, stylistically, to Rock 'n' Roll.[3]

1. That's right, there's no indication Alan Jackson is referring specifically to American workers. I suppose it's not unreasonable to speak in such glowing terms about, say, hard-working blue-collar Canadians, but what about the Chinese? Or the French? And now that I think about it, the song in no way excludes the millions of hard-working unauthorized aliens. Fortunately, this lyrical oversight is rectified by the video, which is just lousy with American flags.
2. Alright, there's a third explanation—the song is kind of funny, and ultimately meaningless.
3. Also, it may be about oral sex. I've commissioned a study.

1 comment:

  1. Have you heard the one about how conservatives and liberals are all about the same, except conservative girls are prettier? "only prettier" is the name. I thought it was funny and at the same time I wanted to do a study.