The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

12 March 2003

Wailers for sale or rent

Reason's Jeff Taylor, on that mawkish country hit that's all over the airwaves:

Darryl Worley's ode to 9/11 is a staggeringly wretched tune. "Have You Forgotten?" sounds like a lost parody from The Simpsons except not as tuneful as Lurlene Lumpkin or as sharply focused as "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well."

Although what I really want you to read is a comment affixed to Taylor's post, signed by the pseudonymous (I assume) Garth Strait:

Modern country music is like fatty comfort food for the brain; it's all about making the listener feel good about their poor and stupid life by reinforcing a false sense of superiority over those who don't share their lifestyle or values.

That's why silly songs about unlikely events that make them feel good about their superstitions (think John Michael Montgomery's "The Little Girl" or Alabama's "Angels Among Us") are so popular.

Or why they like songs like John Conlee's "Common Man" or Aaron Tippin's "Working Man's PhD" or Randy Travis' "Better Class of Losers" that tell them it's not only okay, but it's a virtue to be a poor hourly laborer barely scraping by that lives in a doublewide, because rich and powerful equals evil.

Or that it's only natural to be stupid and irresponsible ("It Ain't No Thinkin' Thing," "Old Enough To Know Better But Still Too Young To Care," most of Hank Williams Jr.)

And the most manipulative, smaltzy songs that give them a good cry ("The Baby," "Almost Home," "What If She's An Angel," "Chain of Love," etc.) are okay no matter how badly written as long as they reinforce the listener's value system of God, Family, and Country. They actually like cliches and trite situations — the familiar is comforting and you don't have to actually think about things that way. And if the songs are contradictory or contain illogical mental leaps it's because the belief system they are modeled on does and the songs merely accurately reflect that.

So, when a "God Bless The USA," a "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue" or a "Have You Forgotten?" comes along that reinforces their reflexive patriotism, they love it. It's a bonding thing between them, the artist, and the rest of the audience — makes 'em feel like one big happy family united against the outsiders in a semi-religious way. That the song is musically amatureish and lyrically inept is beside the point.

My dislike for "God Bless The USA" is on record, so to speak. And truth be told, I have no particular objection to blatant emotional manipulation. But Nashville is hardly alone in its Us vs. Them insularity; there's a whole anti-Establishment Establishment out there, vending its debatable (though hardly ever debated) message to every genre there is.

And, if nothing else, this justifies someone like Shania who doesn't want to change anyone's hearts or adjust anyone's attitudes: she just wants to lay down some spiffy tunes. As virtues go, it's one of the best, if you ask me.

Posted at 7:52 AM to Tongue and Groove

But how would "Garth" have come down on the Lennon vs. McCartney thing?

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at 3:25 PM on 12 March 2003

I like to listen to watch Shania.

Posted by: andy at 4:59 PM on 12 March 2003

On the Lennon/McCartney imbroglio, I suspect he'd side with Macca, on the basis that whatever sins he committed (you'd think the people would have had enough of silly love songs), he never had a dalliance with Yoko.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:25 PM on 12 March 2003

Aw come on, now... isn't a little eeeee-ha!! better than the boom boom boom of rap 'n hip-hop? and God forbid!!! heavy metal? Not all country singers are equal... and I'm thinking some of the current resurgence of country music is rebellion to the aforementioned types of non-music. A patriotic song always brings a tear to my eye - country or otherwise. ;-)

Posted by: ladiosa dellago at 9:51 PM on 12 March 2003

If I'm to be locked in a room with someone else's musical choices, I'd much rather it be, say, Toby Keith instead of Snoop Dogg, yes.

I grew up with that bluegrass-plus-honky-tonk stuff Nashville was vending in the Fifties, and followed it for a while as they slapped strings (as distinguished from fiddles) on it; I think the last country record I bought for a couple of decades was "What's Your Mama's Name?" by an appallingly-young Tanya Tucker, which would be about 1974. I like it better when it's about heartbreak and human frailty; I tend to distrust anything too overtly political, regardless of genre.

Posted by: CGHill at 11:42 PM on 12 March 2003

What struck me was that most of the criticism on that thread attacked the politics of the lyrics (and the song's listeners) while pretending to assess its musical merit.

Most pop music sucks. Big deal, why single this one out? Is it worse than "Imagine", "Peace Train", or "What's Going On?"

Posted by: craig henry at 7:22 AM on 14 March 2003

Very few things are worse than "Peace Train".

Although you should make room in your Pantheon of Poop for Graham Nash's "Military Madness", off Songs for Beginners, from about the same time period.

In an upstairs room in Blackpool
By the side of a northern sea
The army had my father
And my mother was having me
Military madness was killing my country
Solitary sadness comes over me

"My daddy wasn't with me when I was born, and it's all the fault of the Royal Army." You have to go pretty far into the kitsch vault to find tunes that will induce greater deflection of the Snivel-O-Meter™. (Of course, being as how it's by Graham Nash, it's damned catchy.)

Posted by: CGHill at 3:26 PM on 14 March 2003