Country Gentleman

Patriotism is frequently like an old suit that we keep around for certain occasions. We always have it, but it's not always on. When we do wear it, we notice how uncomfortably it binds in places, and vow that we're going to get it tailored. But it's ours. If we didn't care, we wouldn't keep it around.
And if we weren't Americans, we probably wouldn't bitch so much about how it fits.
Anyways, when I woke up this morning wondering how my son and I were going to celebrate the holiday, I kept thinking back to the family celebrations I had growing up. And for better or worse, the 4th was generally pretty low key. Cookouts at home, visits from friends and loved ones, piling into the car to see fireworks at the beach, and then complaining about traffic all the way home.

Later on I would add my own twists on the formula (the annual Twilight Zone marathon on the Sci-Fi Channel, concerts and fireworks downtown instead) -- but the basic premise is still pretty much the same.

Thinking back to when I was a little kid, I remember a lot more parades being involved. Standing in the hot sun waiting for free candy to be thrown from floats and having to hear John Phillip Sousa songs slowly stroll by. The pageantry of it all was cool, but to be honest -- parades tend to be a little dull. I'm not really surprised that as a tradition they've kinda fallen to the wayside in many places.

The same can be said for Sousa, who's music tends to pound you over the head with it's military overtones. There's just not a lot of room for personal expression with Sousa, no real use for flexibility. As such, it's not much wonder why it hasn't aged very well.

At the same time, what makes those old marches so memorable is their construction. The way all those pieces are built on top of one another so that they work just right. It's why you rarely hear them played by anything other than a full marching band or orchestra.
It's also why this rendition never fails to blow me away.
Before I was really ever aware of Rock and Roll, I knew Chet Atkins. One of the true masters of the guitar, Atkins was equally adept at Country, Jazz, and Classical playing. His trademark style is nearly impossible to master, and yet when you see him play it looks like he's hardly doing anything at all.
For all my love of shredders, punk rock, and thrash metal, I'd kill to one day be able
to play with a fraction of the style and grace that Chet Atkins brought to the table.
He lent his style to countless artists -- and in a way shaped a certain part of my musical upbringing. My father was never as obsessive about players as I was -- but he loved great songs. As such, I wonder if he even knew that many of the artists he liked to listen to (Jim Reeves, Glen Campbell, Waylon Jennings) featured Atkins' guitar work. Or that many of the artists that were played around the house when I was a kid (Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Jerry Reed) were all produced by him.

And yet, whenever you see footage of the guy -- he couldn't be more soft-spoken and unassuming.

-- Dig the sweep arpeggios during Chet's solo. Suck on that, Yngwie.
It's amazing to think that this quiet man who had sometimes to be dragged out of his shell by his more socially magnanimous friends was the same person who stood alone by his convictions even in the racially charged environment of the civil-rights 60's (not to mention the assumed social attitudes of most country music fans at the time) to convince RCA records to sign country music's first African American artist Charlie Pride.
But he did.
It's easy in today's world sometimes to forget that true character isn't what you say or how loud you say it, but what you actually do.

This day -- regardless of how loud the fireworks, how drunken the revelry gets, or how bad the traffic is on the way home -- is about all the men and women who understood that, and all that we enjoy as a result.
And I know that might sound preachy, especially in our fast-food, culture-shocked society -- but that's what kinda makes this place what it is.
After all, if it weren't for all of Chet Atkins' hard work to add class and professionalism to Country Music, we might never had the chance to hear something like this (which despite all my high and mighty talk still remains one of my all-time favorite songs).
Have a great holiday, everyone.

[Listening to:  Bury Your Dead - "Womb Disease" ]


Werdna said…
There are a few of these Chet Atkins/Mark Knopfler videos out there:

And they are unbelievable. Long live Chet.
Satorical said…
Laughin' my ass off, being amazed, learning something, feeling better about the world after a ten-minute read: this is some blog you got here, man.
Heff said…
I remember hearing the name "Chet Atkins" back when I was first learning to play guitar, but I was closed minded, and hated country music (still do), so I never bothered to listen to any of his stuff.

Now that I'm older, I've gotta give him props. He was awesome. The real shocker to me these days, is that Jerry Reed was TOO.
Adam said…
That version of 'Stars and Stripes Forever' is pretty fucking amazing. I've never seen that before... thanks for posting it. The only (minor) downside is when the crowd starts clapping along 'in time' towards the end. I hate it when that happens. I don't know why, but it's just one of those things that really bugs me. I remember working at the record store when the live Velvet Underground album came out. It was shit, but the worst (or maybe best) part was when the crowd started clapping along to 'Heroin.' That just seems wrong, for some reason...
Hex said…
Werdna -- He's just such a graceful player, it's inspiring to watch.

Satorical -- thanks buddy.

Heff -- I was much the same way, and I grew up in a house full of his records. It was only when I kind of rediscovered his music on my own did I realize I was already sort of connected. It was much the same when I realized that Les Paul was an amazing player and not just a name on a guitar.

Adam -- the crowd clapping is something that gets on my nerves too, but when you get with one of those Grand Ole Opry/Branson type of crowds you learn to sort of expect it, I guess.