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.