Friday, July 15, 2005

Everything Except Country, Ad Nauseam*

*I originally posted this on my MySpace blog, but since I'm still suffering from that infernal writer's block, I thought I would just bring it over here until I get some new material. And you're a whole new audience!

It's amazing how many profiles I have seen on MySpace where the phrase "I like everything except country" pops up in the musical interests section. I'm having a hard time understanding how this can be, yet country music remains extremely popular, judging by album sales and the growing number of country radio stations. What is it about country music that annoys people so much? I know that when I was younger, I hated it simply because it had a stigma attached to it. I thought only toothless men and trailer park chicks liked C&W. I'm sure this idea was planted in my head by the media and "the cool kids". As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate country music, as well as other forms of music I previously wouldn't have given a fair shake. I don't let the media or random hipsters tell me what I should and shouldn't listen to.

First of all, I realized that without country music, rock 'n roll as we know it would be drastically different. Could there have been an Elvis? He borrowed from country, blues and gospel to develop his sound. And beyond Elvis, the whole genre of rockabilly wouldn't exist. And what about country's influence on songwriting? Country music has always, in it's purest forms, been about telling stories through song. I can't imagine great songwriters like Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen being able to hone their craft without inspiration from country and folk music.

So why are so many people willing to write off a whole genre of music? While I'm sure there are many who have listened to their share of country and truly don't like it, I'm sure that there are quite a few who hate it because they think it's cool to hate it. Country still has that stigma attached to it for the most part. People still think you might be a redneck if you like it, and they don't want to be rednecks. It's usually pretty easy to tell who's being honest though. If you talk to someone about country music and they sound like they're regurgitating something that the tattooed guy at the record store said, or something that would've come straight out of the garbage dump known as Rolling Stone, you can pretty much bet that they've never listened to country and are just saying what they think they have to to be cool. It's generally something like, "country music has no heart...the only good country artists are Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard". Cash is always the first one mentioned. Because everyone knows if you don't like Johnny Cash, you're an idiot. Artist #2 isn't always necessarily Merle Haggard. It varies between him, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Jr. and Waylon Jennings. Or, if just Johnny Cash is mentioned, they'll also throw in that "the new Loretta Lynn CD is brilliant". Now, here's a fun game. Ask them if they actually own Van Lear Rose. Watch them squirm. Ask them to name a Johnny Cash song besides "Ring of Fire" or "Folsom Prison Blues". (Oops, the NIN cover doesn't count either.) Watch them panic.

So, what's my point? So often when I start yammering away, I forget. I guess I have two points.

#1 - Don't let the media/friends/music snobs tell you what is good and what isn't. Music is here for us to enjoy. Why throw away possible enjoyment to retain some self-imagined hip status? I'll let you all in on a little secret. I love Def Leppard. Always have, always will. I don't care who knows it and I don't care who doesn't like it. Here's a few more nuggets: I own Air Supply's Greatest Hits, I freaking love Hanson's "Mmmbop" and Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy" and I watch American Idol AND Nashville Star. I do have my music snob moments, like if you get me talking about Britney, Christina and the like, but if people enjoy their "music", that's their business. And let's face it, it is specifically manufactured to be catchy so why fight it? Songs like "Toxic" and "Dirrty" can get stuck in my head for days and they always make me wanna dance. I might feel a little dirrty because of it, but screw it. As far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Like what you like, and make no apologies for it.

Again, I"ve gotten off track. Ah yes...

#2 - Don't dismiss country music or any musical genre as a whole. Until you've listened to absolutely everything that genre has to offer, you have no idea what you could be missing. This is something I know quite a bit about and I'm absolutely qualified to give this advice. Just over a year ago, if you would've mentioned the words "electronica" or "Industrial music" to me I would've rolled my eyes and said something like "I hate that shit". I came upon the band Vic Thrill who were labeled as "electro-clash" and used electronic noise and computers in their music. I immediately assumed I wouldn't like it. But, I gave it a shot only because the lead singer used to be in an alternative/rock band that I loved. I was sure he had gone crazy and this new stuff would be garbage, yet I loved it instantly. Today, they are one of my favorite bands. I learned a lesson from that, realizing that I was being a bit narrow in my musical tastes. Ever since then I have branched out more and more and as a result, have found bands I never knew existed and gained appreciation for music that I had been pigeonholing for too long.

Genres are certainly useful for labeling purposes, but they can also build walls that keep people out. The music industry will never do away with genres (in fact, more and more new ones keep being created, much to my annoyance) so we all have to learn to use them as loose guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Sometimes artists are put into categories that aren't necessarily what they're all about and sometimes those categories evolve to the point where they really don't fit the original genre definition. Therefore, it's hard to say that you hate everything in any particular genre, because there will always be at least one or two gems in there worth picking out. As far as country music goes, there are so many different styles of country now that it's impossible to define it so narrowly. There's bluegrass, rockabilly, folk-country, alt-country and country-rock just to name a few. Then of course, there is the hugely popular pop-country, started with the success of Garth Brooks and then taken to the pop extreme by Shania Twain. The storytelling focus has been traded in for good looks, catchy hooks and pop simplicity. This sub-genre seems to either turn folks completely off of country or bring new fans in with its radio-friendly sound. Either way, it's only one form of a diverse musical style. A few artists aren't a good representation of everything a genre has to offer. If you really love music, you'll enjoy exploring different styles and surprising yourself with what you find.


The Everglades said...

Yeah, I used to be anti-radio in college becasue I thought they churned out a bunch of crap. Plus I thought it was much cooler if I only told people I listened to really obscure, relatively unknown singer-songwriters. And then it happened: I decided I didn't need to be so cool. So now I listen to the radio (and know the words to Toxic as well) and don't care if I can sing along to songs with obvious hooks. Music is awesome. And because I'm from a small Texas town and went to Texas A&M University, I will love country music until the day I die.


Masha said...

I always also wondered what everybody had against country music? Sure, some of it is a little whiny and melodramatic, but there are also annoying things about rock, pop, etc. If you can just right off music, i don't think you can be considered a real musician then. Musicians listen to more than just the music-they listen to the heart of the song.
Excellent post!

Brent McKee said...

At it's best Counry music has a lot in common with the blues, something which Ray Charles readily understood. For proof just look at his cover of the old Hank Williams standard Your Cheatin' Heart or his collaborations with Willie Nelson. The trouble is that there's a lot of bad country music out there as well. Of course the truth is that there's a lot of bad music out there in every style. The truly great in any form (and I'm not just talking about music here) is comparatively rare.

WarpedTourMom said...

I love Johnny Cash forever and ever and ever.

Lee Ann said...

To change the subject. I saw one of your replies in a fellow's blog. I have that same recurring dream about be in college, then realizing you have not been in one class all semester, and now the exam. Mine goes as far as me running from building to building not being able to figure out how to get to that class, and finally arrive with only minutes left to take a final I have no clue of the material. Yes, panic is the feeling with bewilderment of why I never went to that class. I hate that dream.

Will Irby said...

Like I always say, Good Music is Good Music, no matter what it is.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent blog. I missed it on your other post. I mean it girl, this is your calling....great writing. Not only am I addicted, you got the husband readin' ya daily as well.

Talkin' my bitch up!!
Angela :)

Homer Jay said...

Hear hear! I was so liberated after I gave up the "I hate country" cliche. Now I just have to convince my wife that it doesn't mean I'm turning into a redneck. Think you could talk to her for me?


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