(I wrote this after Merle Haggard recently passed way. This week we saw the passing of probably the greatest singer/musician/writer ever-Prince. I can’t imagine what the first writing session was like when Prince and the ‘Hag sat down in Heaven’s sound booth and put it down. I hope I get to hear it one day-but not too soon)
I Love country music; it’s that plain and simple. If left on a desert
island, 70’s music would be a close second but it would be country
music that sustained me during my time of being marooned.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way; I don’t consider what plays
today on country radio to be real country music. It is popular music
that has been screened through the culture of country music. The
singers wear cowboy hats, use the moniker ma’am and try to use a
southern accent. Their videos feature crawfish ponds, longhorn cattle, women in
cut-offs and stacks of straw bales but none of that makes the music
country. The fact that some lead singers carry a banjo really matters
little to me because country music is all about the poetry. Most
contemporary music cares little for good words and seems to rotate around a culture
that is made up of clothing styles, the latest trends and celebrity
worship. The music is simplistic and based upon the chorus.
Much of contemporary country music has as much to do with poetry as an dirty
joke that rhymes.
Country music is the lyric, the spoken word and the heart. While pop
music speaks to its listeners from up high, country looks its
listeners in the eye. Frank Sinatra didn’t sing country but he knew
how to sing a lyric. He never listened to the music of a song until
he read the lyrics and understood the poetry. He then folded the
music into the lyrics until he had a blend that worked. That is my
understanding of country music; poetry first and foremost-the music
is just a carrier. It is a poetic music that is at once humble, honest and emotional.
Country music is simple music-not simplistic. Country music takes the
most complex emotions in our lives and validates them through stories
told simply. It takes an intelligent person, who has lived the pain
of which he or she writes, to compose a lyric that names our pain and
soothes it all at the same time. I see popular music as simplistic-
it attempts nothing and achieves nothing other than to be popular. Real country
can face the mirror and see blemishes as badges. It is not music for those with massive, fragile egos.
When I think of country music, I think of home. I remember sitting in
the grain truck listening to old country on the radio, chewing bubble gum and wearing my comfortable work shoes and thinking that it could not get any better. I think of Ryan, Kenny, Danni, Daren, Mike, Shawn, Dave and all my Viking boys listening to
Hank Junior and trying to pretend we understood the lyric, “corn
bread and ice tea have took the place of pills and 90 proof.” I
think you need some age to truly understand country music because so much of the good stuff tells a life lesson.
Country’s Family reunion will soon be on and I need the ghosts of old country who once were as real as me. I need their heart, I need Bill Anderson’s spoken word and I need their lyrics. I need some Country Poetry.