My boyfriend has been getting me into country. He loves it, and I mean really. He makes no apologies. He loves Johnny Cash, well so do I. But he also loved Dwight Yoakum, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn and Randy Travis. Straight country. He grew up with it, his dad listening to it. I did not. I grew up with punk, new wave, reggae, metal, glam, blues, classical, jazz, indian raga, yacht rock, post rock. Literally I was raised listening to everything but country.
Why not country? I don’t know. I grew up in LA. We are always taught that it was bad somehow. People were always talking about rednecks, especially in the 80s, during the Reagan years. We hated cowboys. The punk music of the time reinforced this, with songs like “urban struggle” by the Vandals being cool. Anyone who was around L.A. in the 80s might also remember the Hickoids, whose mocking lyrics were sung to a country sound, but were also the first band I heard to sing about Austin Tx, and kind of fun to dance to at live shows.
Or X, who sang in a more serious country style, especially X’s side project the Knitters, whose married leads John Doe and Exene Cervenka could belt out as soulfully and heartfelt as the Cash’s:
John Doe made it OK for us to start listening to some “cool” country, such as Johnny Cash, or Patsy Cline (but not Dwight Yoakum, not yet). But, after the cowpunk era was over we fickle Southern Californians went back to mostly ignoring country, especially the emerging “new” country of “Achy Breaky Heart”, (which was pretty bad). I went back to listening to British music, indie rock, and electronic club music like NIN instead, forgetting that Johnny Cash covered one of their songs in the 90s.
Until I met John, my beloved boyfriend who is very open-minded, and likes all sorts of country because he grew up in Western PA and his dad listened to it, but still likes the Clash and Frank Zappa, music that would have made him OK in Southern California in the 80s. John is the one giving me a crash course in country and I am happily accepting it!
Now, a short disclaimer. Before you all label me as just another privileged white person who is into country and ignoring the rest of the world, think again! I still love all the genres I was originally into. I love reggae, and blues, and post-punk, and jazz, and Radiohead. Country music is just another style for me to express my emotions and add to t he beautiful palette of music that I already know. In fact, country music has made me like all the other music better. Finding something you like that is so different only heightens your appreciation of what you already know.
But what do I like about country music?
Country music fans are supposed to be really christian, right? Small town morality and rigid social rules. They are really uptight, right? Maybe not. With Willie Nelson smoking joints and Sunny Sweeney sounding perfectly sexually independent, singing about having a “better bad idea” (for a hookup), while among educated liberals, women get offended and publicly accuse men of being rapists. So who is moralistic? It’s all turned upside down. What’s right is left and what’s left is right.
Country music is not backwards. In many cases it is sexy. The country itself is sexy. It’s nature, earth, birth, death, love. Johnny Cash knew this and so did DH Lawrence, (though he was an English poet, he probably would have liked country too!). And the songs are true to human emotions, showing vulnerability. Country singers admit to actually falling in love and being affected by feelings, drinking to hide the pain or worse. OK, there are some newer country singers, who show a more calloused approach, but for the most part it’s nice to hear men and women not just trying to hide feelings and play the game.
So get your hats and boots, or don’t, but just listen to some country! It’s OK now.