Monday, May 02, 2011

The End of an Era? (I hope)

It is my fervent hope that the death of Osama bin Laden will be the end of an era in at least one aspect: may it finally bring an end to the last decade of insufferable country music built around the theme of "God-told-me-to-be-a-Republican-and-go-kill-in-Iraq."

I mean, this stuff is really terrible. I am ordinarily an unapologetic fan of country music, but the last decade has been a time of crisis, a kind of country music Dark Ages. I suppose you could say it started with Alan Jackson within the first few months after September 11, 2001. In his otherwise quite lovely, heartfelt song "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" he sings about the emotions of "that September day" and it's all very touching, but the chorus has the line: "I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran." First of all, "the difference between" would have apparently thrown off his rhythm, so we have "the difference in," but secondly, the Iraq reference is so jarringly out of place in a song about September 11, a song released in the fall of 2001, that you'd almost think Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld put him up to it. To be fair, Alan Jackson doesn't actually lay any blame for 9/11 at Iraq's feet; he simply states - repeatedly - that he is a simple man, and he essentially makes it a virtue to be unaware of world politics/geography and specifically the Middle East, which must be relevant, because 9/11 was terrorism, right? Ick.

There are way worse songs though. In particular there is Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten?" which finally got me to turn off the country radio for a good long while, circa 2003. That song justifies the Iraq invasion ("some say we don't need this war" etc.) by singing, "Have you forgotten?...We said we'd get the ones behind bin Laden..." etc. No, Darryl, we have not forgotten. But they aren't in Iraq, you twit.

Not everyone follows country music, but I suppose I don't have to remind even those of you on the outskirts of country strummin' about the Dixie Chicks nonsense, when they were chastised, condemned, threatened, cursed, and run out of town just short of tar and feathers (although the equivalent of tarring and feathering was done to their career). The problem? They spoke out about George W. Bush, warmonger extraordiniaire. They were well within their rights and, as Texans, had suffered under him longer than many of the rest of us, but noooooo... in the country music Dark Ages, it was forbidden to utter anything against the Torturer-in-Chief or anything that interfered with the oil-based killing sprees.

There are others. I've heard a bunch that I can't identify, because I'm telling you, I had to stop listening the way I used to; I just couldn't stomach it. So I'm only tangentially aware of things like Toby Keith's song, which I believe is called "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," that actually has the following couplet: "You'll be sorry you messed with the U.S. of A./We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way." I heard that one recently in the deliciously cheap and smoky country bar Grand Ole Opry in Seoul's foreigner-heavy Itaewon district and watched two dozen U.S. soldier faces light up as they sang every word. Toby Keith's song, which is ostensibly just a harmless ass-kicking patriotism party, doesn't explicitly mention Iraq so it's not as bad as some, but it takes a fierce stand against being against the current wars, in that whole "you're-not-supporting-the-troops-if-you-want-them-to-come-home" way.

Meanwhile, former top-of-the-charts singer/songwriters like Mary-Chapin Carpenter who wrote poetic ballads contemplating personal September 11th stories were ignored by the Nashville machine. I guess in "Grand Central Station" she forgot to mention any countries that had nothing to do with Osama/Al Qaida. Oh yeah, and she also wants peace. You remember - peace? Actual freedom? Freedom from violence and fear?

So maybe, just maybe, the death of Osama bin Laden can put an end to this era, the Dark, Dark decade of crappy George-Bush-bought-me-a-ticket-to-Iraq-but-God-assigned-the-seats* country music that ended up boomeranging country listeners who wanted something else in the totally polar opposite direction and recently landing us in the plucky guitar and plaintive warblings of Taylor Swift.
*not an actual country song lyric of the last decade, but it might as well have been

Can we PLEASE get back to really awesome country music now? I'm thinking a little 90s-era Martina McBride could serve as a reminder that my beloved country peeps are capable of invoking patriotic imagery for socially conscious reasons:

"Let freedom ring, let the white dove sing (ahh! notice! a peace symbol!)
Let the whole world know that today is a day of reckoning
Let the weak be strong, let the right be wrong
Roll the stone away
Let the guilty pay
It's independence day!"
-from her Burning Bed-derivative exploration of escaping domestic violence, "Independence Day"

No comments: