Honoring Country (Music)

Country music has almost always been counter-counter-culture.  Country music honors ancestors and traditions, while hardcore rocker bands like Stick To Your Guns glorify felons Eric Garner, Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin, the ludicrously named Prophets of Rage mock “the chosen whites” who “wear[ ] badges” (“Killing In The Name”), and Vampire Weekend and Foster the People shill for socialist retread Bernie Sanders.

Often featuring sharp and witty lyrics and hummable tunes, Country fosters a patriotic love of the land and its people, and displays a spirit of proud independence. As such, it is among the most engaging of musical idioms. It is at its purest an amalgam of swagger and humility. True, its subject matter can’t help but touch the world out there and can’t help but convey attitudes and beliefs, often of a patriotic nature, but it is certainly not an agenda-driven program for incendiary or subversive or revolutionary change. It purveys no drummingly sociopolitical message. Rather, Country in its essence expresses natural and universal feelings of love and home and basic human experience -- “the basics of love,” as Waylon Jennings put it in “Luckenbach, Texas.” Anchored in everyday life, it does not hector or seek to persuade but treats of perennial themes while retaining a distinctive artistry in melody and lyric.

As Alan Jackson sings in his haunting 9/11 requiem, Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning, he is not “a real political man,” unlike the smug patricians of the reigning Western cultural elite. Jackson’s elegy for Hank Williams, “Midnight in Montgomery,” is unforgettably poignant and as unpolitical as it can get, very much like Williams’ signature “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Williams is reputed to have said: “God writes the songs. I just hold the pen” -- a way of articulating a felt truth and a welcome antitoxin to the malignant spirit of decay and subversion that has permeated the cultural, political and institutional life of America today. Such cultural decadence is the reason why so much of its music is trash.

When it comes to pride in national heritage, historically rooted customs, the bonds of family and friendship, the pathos of love and, for many Country performers, the spirit of Christian devotion, the left, of course, is having none of it. Ideology comes before all. Anything and anyone celebrating traditional values of piety, courage and honor are anathema. It is no surprise that Bucky Covington’s “A Different World,” a touching, catchy and wistful reminiscence of a time when “school always started the same everyday/the pledge of allegiance, then someone would pray,” was condemned by Democraticunderground.com as “the worst country song ever.” Similarly, Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home,” Kenny Chesney’s “Back Where I Come From,” Tim McGraw’s “Back When” and Thomas Rhett’s “Sixteen” with their pleasing rhymes, singable tunes and down-home feeling recognize an America that the progressivist regime associated with the Democratic left is trying, might and main, to bring to its knees.

Country illustrates that the best popular music is at once personal and universal, defined by beautiful melody and heartfelt lyricism. The same quality of permanence is obviously true of other genres -- whether crossover, Countrypolitan, commercial or pop/rock/folk -- when it evades the extinguishing clamp of political and ideological orthodoxy, as in the music of lyrical and melodic geniuses like Gordon Lightfoot and Leonard Cohen or the sheer tuneful virtuosity of a group like ABBA. Their achievement, like that of Country superstars George Jones, Williams, Jackson, Glen Campbell, Toby Keith, Johnny Cash, Brooks & Dunn, and Dierks Bentley, to name only a few, makes it plain that music is well served staying clear of social agitprop and political evangelism if it is to retain its identity as music.

There are brilliant exceptions --  the late John Denver or Billy Joel as individuals engaged in social politics come immediately to mind -- but they are extraordinary musicians/songwriters far less doctrinally strident than many of their peers. Some of the more provocative bands past and present with their unique and unmistakable sound, like The Doors or The Rolling Stones, seem to me most successful when they treat of the simpler and more elemental emotions, for example, The Doors’ “She Lives on Love Street” or The Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow.” The lyrics are not great poetry but the ensemble works, owing in large measure to the evocative union of melody and tenor, precisely as Country does.

Of course, my perspective is shaped by my experience, and my preferences cannot avoid a degree of subjectivity. This is par for the course. Still, I would contend that popular music is at its best when it remains predominantly the “sound of music” and its words speak to the heart and soul, eschewing the memes and shibboleths of the impermanent day. Country in particular is one of the most effective antidotes against the malign infiltration of the political left into the collective mind of the nation. Melodically appealing, often verbally clever, and treating of what is most profound and enduring in human life, Country music reinforces the power of the untrammeled spirit and the belief that there is more to life than the clench of sordid calculation, the withering hand of dogma, the latest radical sentiment or the political lie of the moment. Songwriter Howard Harland famously defined a great country song as “three chords and the truth” -- and there is considerable truth to that.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Country music has almost always been counter-counter-culture.  Country music honors ancestors and traditions, while hardcore rocker bands like Stick To Your Guns glorify felons Eric Garner, Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin, the ludicrously named Prophets of Rage mock “the chosen whites” who “wear[ ] badges” (“Killing In The Name”), and Vampire Weekend and Foster the People shill for socialist retread Bernie Sanders.

Often featuring sharp and witty lyrics and hummable tunes, Country fosters a patriotic love of the land and its people, and displays a spirit of proud independence. As such, it is among the most engaging of musical idioms. It is at its purest an amalgam of swagger and humility. True, its subject matter can’t help but touch the world out there and can’t help but convey attitudes and beliefs, often of a patriotic nature, but it is certainly not an agenda-driven program for incendiary or subversive or revolutionary change. It purveys no drummingly sociopolitical message. Rather, Country in its essence expresses natural and universal feelings of love and home and basic human experience -- “the basics of love,” as Waylon Jennings put it in “Luckenbach, Texas.” Anchored in everyday life, it does not hector or seek to persuade but treats of perennial themes while retaining a distinctive artistry in melody and lyric.

As Alan Jackson sings in his haunting 9/11 requiem, Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning, he is not “a real political man,” unlike the smug patricians of the reigning Western cultural elite. Jackson’s elegy for Hank Williams, “Midnight in Montgomery,” is unforgettably poignant and as unpolitical as it can get, very much like Williams’ signature “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Williams is reputed to have said: “God writes the songs. I just hold the pen” -- a way of articulating a felt truth and a welcome antitoxin to the malignant spirit of decay and subversion that has permeated the cultural, political and institutional life of America today. Such cultural decadence is the reason why so much of its music is trash.

When it comes to pride in national heritage, historically rooted customs, the bonds of family and friendship, the pathos of love and, for many Country performers, the spirit of Christian devotion, the left, of course, is having none of it. Ideology comes before all. Anything and anyone celebrating traditional values of piety, courage and honor are anathema. It is no surprise that Bucky Covington’s “A Different World,” a touching, catchy and wistful reminiscence of a time when “school always started the same everyday/the pledge of allegiance, then someone would pray,” was condemned by Democraticunderground.com as “the worst country song ever.” Similarly, Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home,” Kenny Chesney’s “Back Where I Come From,” Tim McGraw’s “Back When” and Thomas Rhett’s “Sixteen” with their pleasing rhymes, singable tunes and down-home feeling recognize an America that the progressivist regime associated with the Democratic left is trying, might and main, to bring to its knees.

Country illustrates that the best popular music is at once personal and universal, defined by beautiful melody and heartfelt lyricism. The same quality of permanence is obviously true of other genres -- whether crossover, Countrypolitan, commercial or pop/rock/folk -- when it evades the extinguishing clamp of political and ideological orthodoxy, as in the music of lyrical and melodic geniuses like Gordon Lightfoot and Leonard Cohen or the sheer tuneful virtuosity of a group like ABBA. Their achievement, like that of Country superstars George Jones, Williams, Jackson, Glen Campbell, Toby Keith, Johnny Cash, Brooks & Dunn, and Dierks Bentley, to name only a few, makes it plain that music is well served staying clear of social agitprop and political evangelism if it is to retain its identity as music.

There are brilliant exceptions --  the late John Denver or Billy Joel as individuals engaged in social politics come immediately to mind -- but they are extraordinary musicians/songwriters far less doctrinally strident than many of their peers. Some of the more provocative bands past and present with their unique and unmistakable sound, like The Doors or The Rolling Stones, seem to me most successful when they treat of the simpler and more elemental emotions, for example, The Doors’ “She Lives on Love Street” or The Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow.” The lyrics are not great poetry but the ensemble works, owing in large measure to the evocative union of melody and tenor, precisely as Country does.

Of course, my perspective is shaped by my experience, and my preferences cannot avoid a degree of subjectivity. This is par for the course. Still, I would contend that popular music is at its best when it remains predominantly the “sound of music” and its words speak to the heart and soul, eschewing the memes and shibboleths of the impermanent day. Country in particular is one of the most effective antidotes against the malign infiltration of the political left into the collective mind of the nation. Melodically appealing, often verbally clever, and treating of what is most profound and enduring in human life, Country music reinforces the power of the untrammeled spirit and the belief that there is more to life than the clench of sordid calculation, the withering hand of dogma, the latest radical sentiment or the political lie of the moment. Songwriter Howard Harland famously defined a great country song as “three chords and the truth” -- and there is considerable truth to that.

Photo credit: Pixabay