Sunday, February 27, 2005

country grammar

Toby Keith

I like all kinds of music. A lot of people tend to make statements like that to make it sound like they’re agreeable people, only to later admit that they don’t listen to such and such because of whatever. But I really like a little bit of everything.

It comes from growing up in a television culture, where almost any style of music is featured, whether seriously or as a joke, in shows, commercials documentaries, what have you. Before the era of market segmentation, broadcast music was even freer than it is now. Luckily the internet has taken up some of the slack, meaning that two random people from two random cultures can be into the same music and download it from the same place.

The closest I come to making myself a hypocrite on the love of all music is when it comes to country; specifically modern country. My dad is into country, and sometimes as I ride home from work I get to hear it on his car stereo. Maybe it’s the stress of work, or being tired otherwise at the end of the day, but modern country comes the closest as a genre to pissing me off as I listen to it.

Despite some real talent like Tim McGraw, Brad Pasley, George Strait, Martina McBride, and LeAnn Rimes, the majority of the acts favored by country radio are simply variations on the same theme. Poverty is celebrated, so is the past. The message is seemingly always ‘Nothing is right in this world except the rural lifestyle and even that’s not as good as the old days,’ and the message only stops for commercials twice an hour.

As if the sentimentalism and sepia-colored past weren’t enough, then there’s the attempt at patriotism. I love America, and I don’t want to live anywhere else, but many country artists’ worldviews are so simplistic that cartoons offer more depth. You can be proud of who you are and where you live without looking at everyone else who isn’t you as heathens, but you won’t get on country radio thinking that broadly.

In the old days, the great artists like Hank Williams, Sr., Eddy Arnold, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, and Tammy Wynette could talk about the world abroad and their lives and not seem so self-righteous. Love was cool, but true love was fantastic. Being cool and innovative was a goal, but they weren’t so caught up in being cool and innovative that they consciously chased it.

The old-school country acts were singing their convictions and joys and sorrows and it was real. The last guy to truly do that in modern country was Garth Brooks, and marital troubles and an edgy, but poor selling, alter ego named Chris Gaines forced him to go home for a few years.

The new guys talk about life and love and getting laid, but it’s just not real, despite the conversational tone of most lyrics. The language isn’t poetic anymore, and the music is largely an afterthought. The idea that someone is talking to you through the radio in simple language and catchy hooks seems neat at first, but too much unfiltered, uncreative commentary of modern life is boring and trite. They sound like your neighbors or cousins, but soon you realize your neighbors and cousins would sure sound boring set to fiddles and unfunky backbeats.

Then again, maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s because country artists don’t generally write their own music these days. Maybe big radio stamps out other more interesting messages form more interesting artists. Maybe other genres of music are just as guilty of their own sins. Whatever it is, it grates on my nerves and I can’t help but dislike it.

Okay, so I’m a hypocrite, too ;)

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