Pickin and Grinnin

I'm not a huge fan of country music -- but every now and then a song will get into my head and I'll find myself drawn into it for a little while. And even though it's not something I could ever see myself doing on a regular basis as a musician, one of the secrets guitar players the world over know is that regardless of anything else it might or might not be,
Country music is hell of a lot of fun to play.
But more than that, country music is just catchy. Even if you generally don't like it as a style -- if you're ever in a place where you're willing to give a song a chance, even if it's just out of courtesy (riding in a friends car, waiting at the auto shop, whatever) -- the tune tends to get stuck in your head.

Then like a day later, when you're not thinking about it -- you'll find yourself humming the melody or half-singing the choruses.
Only to look up and and find all your coworkers are staring at you, saying:
"Dude, was that ..Garth Brooks?"
And then you're caught in the inevitable backpedal, trying to wriggle out of it with half-assed excuses that never seem to hold any water -- because if you're not considered part of a sworn and true group of boot-scooters or shitkickers, there's just something embarrassing about being thought of as a country music fan.

I live in the South, where there are lots of people around who love, live, and wear Country music on their sleeves (which is fine) -- but if you're not sorta known among your friends as being a country music fan yet own a George Strait album there's some unspoken shame that leads you to do your best not to keep at the top of your CD case.
It's almost as if as much as people love living in the South, the
last thing they really want to be accused of is being Southern.
You'll even see times where you're at someones house for a party, and inevitably there will be that one guy who decides it's somehow acceptable behavior to browse the host's music shelves and make character judgements based off what they find there -- and once they find that country disc hidden in the back near the Christmas collections it's like they feel compelled to point it out like it's an ugly stepchild or something.

Which is kind of silly when you think about it. I mean, it's just music -- right?
I can't tell you how many times I've seen people faced with Randy Travis or Shania Twain discs who immediately try to disown them or blame it on their spouses or significant others. You'd think their parents had busted them with pot, or discovered a stack of porno magazines under the bed they way most people try to back away from it.
"I had ..this roommate in college who loved the stuff. Our CD's
must have gotten mixed up when she moved out. It's not mine."
I think there's this odd stigma surrounding country music that makes it seem like you have to be kinda stupid to enjoy it. The simplistic chord structures, the outdated dress code, the seemingly closed-eye optimism that underlies so much of the lyrics -- there's just something about it that gives you the impression that not only is there not much thought involved in writing a country song, but that enjoying this style of music is best suited for people who not only have trouble understanding advanced concepts -- but also seem uninterested, even resistant to acknowledging real issues that besiege the world around them.

The irony of course is that it's not like other styles of music out there are overflowing with quadratic equations or highly informed and piquant socio-political debate either -- but the difference seems to be that big dumb pop songs and heavy metal anthems seem to exist in a present day world that's at least aware of the fact that the Civil War ended a long time ago.

I think the reason for this has something to do with the fact that country music is written almost entirely from an adult viewpoint. You'll be hard pressed to ever find a cowboy song dealing with the frustrations of being a teenager without a prom date, or what it's like to be misunderstood or feel disenfranchised.

In other words, country songs seem written by people who have lived long enough to know exactly what it is they want from life, how a fun Saturday night should be spent, and what their mama means to them. It's almost like sometimes country singers know too much for their own good.
All except for one thing..
Because when you get right down to it, there is one subject that country songs don't seem to know anything about. One topic that country singers never seem to deal with at all.
You can find country songs that deal with love. Country lyrics talking about children and family. Hell, Tammy Wynette scored a huge hit singing about D-I-V-O-R-C-E, but the one thing you don't hear country crooners (David Allen Coe notwithstanding) talking about is getting busy.
To hear the lyrics tell it, it's almost like they don't do it at all.
I clearly remember growing up watching country superstar Dolly Parton singing songs on television and hearing everyone (including my parents) talking about how "wonderful her voice was" and how "bright and refreshing a personality" she had, almost as if everyone was tripping over themselves not to notice any of the um.. other attributes that might have made her appealing to the public at large.

Of course the odd thing is that whether it's jokes about inbreeding, falling in love with various farm animals, or being thought of as a group eager to over-populate the world with kinfolk -- few groups in America have been so negatively stereotyped as oversexed as hillbillies, rednecks, and country folk have throughout the years.

It's just that when you get to the music itself, there almost seems to be a concerted effort to avoid discussions of those kinds of things. One might even go as far to suggest that all those negative sexual stereotypes are the very reason you won't find Trisha Yearwood and Faith Hill getting together to do a remake of "Shoop."

Not that I think all music and lyrics should be written about boinking, but that Country music's apparent refusal to even acknowledge the concept may have helped create an atmosphere that makes the people involved seem sheltered, naive, and hopelessly out of step with the modern world.

So perhaps the problem isn't that people think country singers and fans are stupid so much as they think of them in the same way some people see clueless virgins -- which in today's everybody-knows-everything Judd Apatow type world seems a fate far worse than never having read a book, finishing school, or being able to find "the Iraq" on a map.

Or to put it another way, Lula Mae in the trailer park might have 14 rugrats pulling at her ankles, but as far as Kenny Chesney is concerned -- the stork must have carried them over in little bundles of cloth during the middle of the night.

At the same time considering who some of the biggest stars in the genre are, I'm not so sure I would welcome the change if it came tomorrow. Truth be told, I think even most die-hard fans might have trouble if someone like Charlie Daniels got up on a stage in Nashville and said
"To truly understand the message of this song, it might be helpful for
all you good people out there to close your eyes and picture me naked."
It's almost like what country music really needs is a new voice -- a worldly, experienced kind of spokesperson to help remove that sorta never-been-touched nerdiness from it's public image.
Someone like say, ..Maynard James Keenan in a wig.

Ridiculously unsafe for work, yet hilarious.

[Listening to:    Jimi Hendrix"If 6 Was 9" ]