I’m dropping a few chapters of my book in here at a time because I’m mighty, mighty undisciplined and it’s forcing me to do a last edit as if, you know, people might be reading it. That’d be you, friend.
I’m dropping a few chapters of my book in here at a time because I’m mighty, mighty undisciplined and it’s forcing me to do a last edit as if, you know, people might be reading it. That’d be you, friend.
Track Two: “Born Country,” Alabama, 1991.
Songwriter Harlan Howard once said, “Country music is three chords and the truth.” Outlaw country singer Elizabeth Cook then said, via Twitter, “Everytime a journalist says ‘three chords and the truth’ I’m going to shoot a country star’s baby.” My apologies to the offspring of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
Speaking of, the popular singer Faith Hill says, “Country music is the people’s music. It just speaks about real life and about truth and it tells things how they really are.” And Garth Brooks, the king of its contemporary form, says, “True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt.”
Amen to all that. Especially the part about shooting country stars’ babies because I ❤ Elizabeth Cook.
I was raised on country music, Randy Travis and Garth Brooks and all the rest. Not a whole lot of Tim and Faith when I could manage to avoid it, but sometimes these things can’t be helped. From its omnipresence on local radio as a kid to rediscovering it on fifty-cent garage sale records as an adult, it’s been a constant in my life. It’s gotten me through some hard times, its themes making me feel wistful for my rural Midwestern roots, helping me settle on vindication over heartbreak when someone’s done me wrong, and speaking above all and always for simple folk who work too hard and get paid not enough. It’s made me the subject of ridicule, financed much of my drinking habit but not a large enough portion of my cocaine habit, and a time or eleven found me a man, no shit. Folks all across this great land (apologies for the jingoistic phrase but hey, consider our fucking theme, here) love and have loved country music, from its roots in the Appalachian Mountains, then and now a blend of folk and gospel, to its form in America’s urban areas and in the new millennium, slickly packaged and highly-produced. And well, most recently, kind of, umm… rappy. Rap-py? Rappy and butt-rocky? Um, yeah that.
For many, the form draws redneck and podunk connotations which could be a good or bad thing depending upon whom you ask and whether or not they sport naked ladies with big boobies on their mud flaps or goddamn racist-piece-of-shit “rebel flag” sticker on the bumper of their pickup. A lot of folks despise country music; I liked it a lot as a kid growing up in the early nineties, but was embarrassed to admit it knowing just how uncool other kids thought the country of our era was, with Garth Brooks in his stiff color-blocked shirts and tight Wranglers, Billy Ray Cyrus sporting a rattail and mullet. Did Billy Ray have a rattail or is that another one of those manufactured memories? Whatever the case, I endured a couple painful years of being tormented by my friends for playing Brooks & Dunn on my Walkman while they listened to Sir Mix-A-Lot and danced to Dee-Lite, both MTV staples at the time.
My embarrassment turned full-blown revulsion by the time I was fourteen, when I decided the genre didn’t fit my new punk sensibilities. I wasn’t at the time privy to country’s own set of punkass outlaws, Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and so on. My command of punk at the time involved listening to loud, fast, angry music dubbed by someone’s older brother on cassette, wearing edgy shirts advertising bands we’d only heard once – on that mixtape – and dying our hair if our moms would let us, which my mother would not. In contrast to uncool country, punk was a musical genre whose exclusivity felt so inclusive, so I shed my country affiliations and began wearing offensive Dead Kennedys shirts, adorned in imagery depicting political references from the 1980s which held no meaning whatsoever for me, a sheltered South Dakota kid, in 1994. I stopped teaching myself to line dance in our rec room, and imagined being old enough to go to shows in the city where people did things like, you know, mosh, and pogo.
I shunned country when I learned to play the upright bass, outgrew punk and developed a totally refined taste for jazz in my mid-to-late-teens – Mingus, Monk and Coltrane; I swapped my punk shirts for Ts bearing their likenesses, which in my hometown made me even cooler than the cool punks, if you can imagine. And as I ventured forth into adulthood, I reckon I spent most my time rocking out to the hyper-sexualized lyrics of Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and other masculine musical forms performed by aging dinosaurs, all the while chasing after guys who were no good for me. Should’ve instead been settling down with a real nice cowboyfarmboyrancher and listening to cheerful songs about line dancing and rodeos, but that’s neither here nor there.
What’s important is I eventually found country music again, or rather, it found me. After a couple years spent as a honky-tonk dilettante of sorts, throwing down a Waylon Jennings or Buck Owens record here and there amidst the Stones, something truly magical happened that reaffirmed my appreciation for the stuff, and I have those 90s country hit-makers Brooks & Dunn to thank for it.
I was in my mid-twenties, drinking with some friends around a fire pit my friend Joe had built in the backyard of his South Minneapolis rental. From across the fence, I could hear a neighbor scan then turn up his radio. I recognized that twangy guitar lick winding up the beginning of the song, the countrified drawl of the lyrics. The song playing was Brooks & Dunn’s then sixteen-year-old smash hit, “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” a song about clockin’ out at work and going line dancing at a honky-tonk. I hadn’t heard it in years.
“Oh man, I used to love that song,” I moaned to everyone. Or really, to no one. See, the group of friends assembled for this backyard shindig were members of a number of local hip-hop groups, and their friends and associates and assorted hangers-on and so on. Needless to say, no one much cared that I used to love this country song. But I had a moment there to myself, oh yes I surely did.
I really did love that song, back when it earned me the scorn of my friends as a child in South Dakota. “Haha, Nikki’s listening to Brooks & Dunn. I’ll bet she even line dances!” they’d tease. Yes, she did, and she was real good at it, you smartass little motherfuckers. “Where’s your boots, bumpkin?” Yeah, eat shit, jerks. Your MTV viewing habits aside, you were every bit the hillbilly I was. Birth control, ever heard of it? Didn’t think so.
Hearing that song again in Joe’s backyard in my mid-twenties inspired me to begin digging up all the radio hits I loved so much as a pre-adolescent in South Dakota: Brooks & Dunn, Diamond Rio, Billy Dean. I’d listen in my car to the rural station broadcasting from a far outer-ring suburb, a frequency that barely registered on my radio, and would occasionally stumble across songs I hadn’t heard in over a decade. One night I was heading home from an after-bar party, listening to that station. The sun was coming up, the birds were singing, and a Lorrie Morgan song came on the radio.
“Aw jeez, Lorrie Morgan!” I proclaimed to no one but myself, the birds, and an empty South Minneapolis side road.
Lorrie Morgan was one of the big ladies of country pre-Faith Hill, post-Crystal Gayle, and post-post Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. When I was nine, my mom took me to see her at the Brown County Fair, and so my first inclination that early morning was to make a sentimental phone call. “I’m gonna call Mom, and tell her I just came from this party, and that instead of leaving with a skeezy dude, I drove myself home, alone, and now I’m listening to Lorrie Morgan like a good little girl.” Yup, that woulda done Mama real proud.
It was six o’clock in the morning so I thought better of it. If I hadn’t, there’s a good chance an intervention would have ensued, and this story might have taken a slightly different track. Or not! My mom doesn’t call me out on my drinking, remember; only my smoking. She goes full-on disassociation when I describe to her that old coke habit.
Instead, keepin’ right on with the drinkin’ and partyin’ and whatnot, a year or so later I stumbled hungover with some friends to a party at some guy’s house, one thrown on a Sunday afternoon with intentions of exhausting the keg they hadn’t managed to empty the night before. Once there, I ran into Brian, a lovely fellow I’d been dating off-and-on for the better part of a year, off-off-on, on, off-off-off-WAY-OFF, on, off. Off. On! The man I’d spent the previous night with, but not the morning to follow, clearly. He was friends with these keg guys.
A few beers in, and I was hella pissed at Brian. He kept disappearing, and when I’d find him he’d reliably be fetching another woman a drink, or leaning in close laughing at some mundane sentiment she was no doubt uttering. This behavior was so typical of Brian, thus all the off. I will only tolerate this kind of behavior in small doses, off-and-on, like, forever! Rather, did tolerate, no longer. Leave that bullshit in your twenties, y’all.
I confronted him.
“Why do you keep wandering away from me?”
“Well, I didn’t know you’d be here.”
So I kept right on drinkin’. Five or six cups of beer down, and I was moping around an unused fire pit in the backyard, another guest strumming out shitty pop tunes on a beat-up acoustic guitar, me thinking about how much I wanted to kill Brian when… it dawned on me. “Hey, I’ve been here before…”
I don’t mean, “Been to a party where my date’s ignoring me for another woman,” although that pretty much described my every weekend spent with Brian. He was a commitment-phobe who got off on pitting women against each other. He was a super duper catch let me tell you! Not really! But your twenties, that is really chronologically and emotionally a special time encompassing a lot of learning and growing, for some people. And besides, he wasn’t technically my date. We’d merely run into each other the afternoon of the morning-after, at a day-later keg party.
I mean I’d literally been there before, maybe a year or two earlier. I realized only then, kicking around alone in the backyard with my umpteenth drained cup of beer, that this was the South Minneapolis house where my old friend Joe used to live – aside from that fire pit, a fairly nondescript rental duplex. And while Joe had since moved out, I was standing in the same place I had been standing the time his old neighbor had tuned in the radio and turned up the Brooks & Dunn, where I had once been struck by a severe bout with nostalgia.
Ooh ooh! What’s your point, Nikki? Here’s where my totally banal story turns bizarre. Magical, even! In the very moment I recognized that fire pit and realized I’d been there before, recalling it was here that I randomly heard Brooks & Dunn being played on the radio next door, that drunk guest strumming guitar in the backyard of this day-later kegger started laughing, and stopped strumming out the chords to the crappy 90s pop tunes he’d been hammering out all afternoon. He chuckled to himself, seemed lost in thought for a moment, then started rapidly tapping his toe. He laughed again, and strummed out the tune to, of all things, “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.”
Was this… was this a sign?
By this time I’d downed my seventh or eighth red or blue or yellow Solo cup of Black Label or Pabst Blue Ribbon or whatever swill was in that keg, I was stomping around the backyard mad as hell, I’d probably been doing bumps in the bathroom, so you’re darn tootin’ I took it as a sign. A noteworthy one. My drunk ass took it as a clear indication that I ought to get back to my roots, that I oughtta go country. The music became a motherfucking beacon representing my very salvation, my ticket to emotional independence, to not losing sight of what’s really important.
I finished my beer and screamed some obscenities at Brian. “Fuck you, I hope she gives you herpes!” I imagine that was the gist of it, lacking the foresight to realize that if he got ‘em, I’d get ‘em too because you know you’re gonna fuck a Brian again; you always do. And I walked out, the tune to some country anthem playing in my head as I stormed down the sidewalk away from the duplex. Was it Lorrie Morgan’s “Watch Me,” a song about exactly what I was doing – walking away from a man?
No, that song’s tone is too self-assuredly cool, and I doubt I thought Brian would actually watch me walk away, as the song’s lyrics go. He’d not only not watch me, but he’d ignore me altogether. He was probably right back flirtin’ with some floozie, fixin’ to give us both herpes. No, I reckon the song playing in my head was either Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead,” or “Kerosene,” songs which were both, uh… a little more destructive, homicidal even. Cool, Nikki!
I didn’t go out and buy a gun, nor did I set fire to Brian’s house with him and the other woman in it, as Lambert’s protagonists do in those songs, which is cool for among other reasons the fact that I’m still friends with both of them today. Nope. Like the loser I was, I kept right on seeing him, repeating this scene countless times over the course of a year until I finally got a clue.
But that crappy party inspired me to do one positive thing with my life: I told a friend who wrote about music for the local alt-weekly paper that the publication needed a country music writer.
Needed? Maybe not. I don’t know that he necessarily agreed, but we had slept together another year or so back and I suppose that gave me some form of caché with the dude. So in any case and whatever his motivation he proposed the notion to his editor, who did agree. Or acquiesced, as was likelier the case, because she was a nice lady like that. However or for whatever reason it happened, I delved into everything new and old, everything good, bad and downright awful about country. I dug deep, not only getting my hands on all the Merle Haggard and Buck Owens I could, but also music by Buck’s sideman, Don Rich, Buck’s and Merle’s (mutual) ex-wife, Bonnie Owens, and the stuff put out by Buck and Bonnie’s son, Buddy. Heck, a couple years down the road my fandom would even take me all the way to their old Bakersfield, California stomping grounds, traveling with a new guy, a guy who would never ignore me over keg beers on a Sunday, a guy who’d eventually ask me to marry him and become the father of my child, aw shucks. Spoiler, that story has a problematic ending too, so keep your shucks and hold on to your Awwwwwww…s.
But that wasn’t until later. In the meantime, I followed and reported – with plenty of snark, lest you think I take all this so seriously – on contemporary country ranging from Taylor Swift (still in diapers when my mom took me to see Lorrie Morgan at the fair) to Darius Rucker (who prior to his foray into country was in the college rock band Hootie & the Blowfish, back when I was still punk). And country’s claws ain’t let loose of me yet.
Now this is all well and good, getting paid a bit here and there to write about Taylor Swift, but here’s what’s really important about this story: There’s a part of me that’s certain this passion for country, the single-mindedness with which I began to pursue its story and its history and its sound, got me off this track I was on. This track where in my low self-esteem I saw my worth only through the eyes of the men I dated. Or slept with. Usually just slept with. And importantly, it got me away from the likes of Brian, and on the road to Brooks & Dunn. Strange, but absolutely true. Country music got me off the track of sexual promiscuity and self-destruction, and on the road to sexual selectiveness, heightened well-being, and all-around awesomeness. And it helped me rediscover Brooks & Dunn. That part’s most essential.
Somebody get Oprah on the phone here, she’s about to meet her next self-help guru.
I should at least get Randy on the horn, this is big.
See, it’s only so many times you can listen to country music, listen really closely, and hear the tale of how Glen Campbell allegedly knocked poor Tanya Tucker’s teeth out when the two were dating in her much younger years. It’s only so many times you can listen to Tammy Wynette sing the refrain to “Stand By Your Man” and reflect on the many men she stood by for way too long. And you can only feel inspiration in Miranda Lambert’s jilted, homicidal protagonists for so long before you get scared your life’s bound to become a country music cliché and that maybe, just maybe, you oughtta change direction. Where’s my mama? Where’s my truck? Ohhh looky there, a train!
My chair trembles as I write this. No joke. At this very moment, a freighter on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line is traveling north up the Mississippi River, and a new one rumbles on by every fifteen minutes, shaking the lamps hanging from the ceiling. But see I didn’t want to end up in prison, and I didn’t want my dog to die. I definitely had to change direction.
I still live in an urban area, far away from my rural beginnings. I’ve moved away from farmland, and decided I am not going to let my life become some sad country song. Pretty good, right?
And yet, I was chatting a while back with Randy about how maybe, just maybe, I’d like to return to the country. Literally. Leave the city, move to the country. Randy and I are a lot alike – having grown up in similar circumstances and sharing a like sense of humor, we get each other. More important, it seems whenever I’m fuckin’ up, he’s got his shit together just enough to set me straight, and vice versa. It’s like the universe put us together as friends so that when one of us is limpin’ along, the other’s at the ready to lend the crook of an elbow.
The day of our discussion was a special one. We both had our shit together that day. No one was limping. No one was in jail. Save for a near run-in with the cops during the ‘08 Republican National Convention and a near miss on a coke binge the year later, I’ve avoided trouble with the law. Neither of us was fighting with their partner or feeling hungover… or fighting with their partner or feeling hungover or fighting with their partner or feeling hungover. Yeah, those two circumstances usually formed the core of anything that was really getting us down, on the surface anyway. The problems that existed much deeper down? Well, let’s not get into it just yet. But on that glorious day, neither of us was fighting with their partner or feeling hungover, and we had our collective shit together enough to look with hope on our futures, and dream about what might come next for us.
It all began with a conversation about Gregg Allman.
“’I’m No Angel’ is the dumbest song ever,” I proclaimed.
Randy laughed at that. “Totally.”
“’C’mere, lemme show you my tattoo,’” I quoted, then scoffed. “Stupid.”
As conversations about Gregg Allman are wont to do, things rapidly devolved into a discussion about the bad music you hear in crummy bars. Then I told Randy about the transgender woman I used to run into (both of us) drunk at Denny’s, who stabbed a guy who had been harassing her at the crummy bar in my neighborhood earlier that summer, where my friends and I had just begun playing classic rock and country records on weeknights. Then we talked about how we, living as adults for a long time now in big cities as we had, still choose to frequent crummy bars like these where Gregg Allman rules the jukebox. Places where men proclaim they are no angels, show you their dumb tattoos, and then get stabbed by transgender women they’ve been harassing in the bar, and rightly fucking so.
Come now? Yeah, this is how conversations between me and Randy go, usually. Don’t try too hard to keep up.
The gist of our conversation was this: Even in Nashville, Minneapolis, Austin, Houston, our big fancy cities full of theaters and orchestras and upscale jazz clubs and, uh, a bunch of la-dee-da shit like that, in our free time together we tend to gravitate toward hole-in-the-wall, small town-feelin’ bars occupied by old men who swill Bud by the bottle, toothpicks hanging heavy off their lips. And it’s not just Randy and me – most of my friends do the same.
“We need to get you back living in a small town,” Randy schemed.
“God, I know. I want an old farm. Let’s go in on an old farm together.”
“Right now!” he demanded, slamming fist to bar. “We need to get you a little pickup truck with, like, three dogs in the back.”
I laughed, and Randy sighed. “I’m just more comfortable in small towns, I think,” he said.
“My folks offered me a job working for them in my hometown a while back, but that ship has sailed,” I explained. “I would’ve been miserable doing it at the time, though.”
“Yeah, you were a young wild thing with oats to sow, then.” Randy sighed again, and he was right. I was No Angel.
Dammit, Gregg Allman! Is that song totally in your head now, too? Good.
“The good ol’ days,” Randy continued. “Which quickly turn into, ‘The days that made today much harder, what the fuck was I thinking?’ Gad.”
I laughed. “NO SHIT. Gad.”
Present Randy scolded Past Randy. “’Hey Randy, maybe instead of spending all your money on booze and cigarettes, you could sock some away.’”
“Oh God. Do you have any money saved right now?” I asked.
“FUCK NO!” Randy yelled back. “I mean, fuck no.”
“Danged teeth!” I blamed Randy’s new chompers purchased that summer, remediation for the inadequate dental care of his younger days.
“I spent it all on my teeth! Four grand is a lot of money to me these days.”
“No shit,” I moaned.
“Anyway,” I interrupted, redirecting our conversation from false teeth back to Gregg Allman. Not really; we’d said all we needed to say about Gregg Allman, but I’ll bet that song’s right back in your head again, and you’re welcome. I redirected to the discussion of our hopes for the future, of moving to farms with pickups and dogs and whatnot, a future wherein the guitar licks from “Jessica” play on in perpetuity, none of this radio edit bullshit.
“Small towns,” I continued. “I didn’t think I was more comfortable in them, but I’m moving back toward it.” Then I conceded my reasoning. It had something to do with the fact I’d at that point been in an over two-year relationship with a pretty decent guy, Alex, the guy who’s never abandoned me over keg beer. “Probably because I got a man,” I explained.
Randy laughed. “You don’t have to worry about dating some loser from a small town. Hilarious.”
“Exactly. And more importantly, I want to be able to hang out with the kind of folks who don’t pay their bills on home computers. Folks who don’t buy fancy, whole-bean coffee, who won’t judge you for wandering into a C-store naked, demanding a fishing license and cigs, and trying to pay for it with food stamps.”
“Right,” Randy agreed. At the time, we had no idea what kind of future Randy’s drinking held for him.
Now one of the many things I like about Randy, in addition to the fact that he always gives me the best advice and so is free to boss me any day of the week, is knowing that either of us might do a thing like that, and the two of us could laugh about it. Gentle ribbing, but no judgment.
That may sound crazy as all get-out, but for better or worse, these people, these boozers, these losers, these dudes just askin’ to get stabbed in a bar, guys who drink so much that they start to feel encumbered by their clothing and just strip it all off, they’ve always been a part of our lives. And these people, these things, these places and these roots, they aren’t always so easy to disengage from. I guess for people like me and Randy, embracing our flawed lives comes more easily than running away from them entirely. When the fight or flight kicks in, flight may seem the more logical solution, the solution that gives advantage to self-preservation, but the fighting seems to be what always sticks. Now where’s my beer.
I can’t quite explain this yearning to go back. We long for our backwards-ass roots, and have a hard time really outgrowing them. We appreciate all the people and places that made us who we are today. And yet, we really want to live lives that are markedly less uh… Wingnut. Flag-waving. Toothless. You know all the stereotypes, and a lot of them are true.
But that’s just the thing – it’s still who we are, even if we’re not ourselves flag-waving toothless wingnuts. Er, well, Randy’s not toothless anymore, anyway. My family of bootstrappers kept me in excellent dental care. And on that day, we reminisced about our hometowns.
Mine was a town of 25,000 east of the Missouri River, the third largest C.I.T.Y. in South Dakota, one nicknamed The Hub City for the railroads that crisscross it, though today there’s not a major interstate highway in sight. In an age of interstate commerce, this has left its population to expand only very slowly, even with BNSF still bustling in the town. I grew up in The Hub City until I was in the fourth grade, then moved with my family to a bigger house on a large plot of land just outside its borders.
“Look where I grew up.” He pulled out his phone, and brought up a link to a satellite map of the house where he grew up in rural North Carolina, born little Randy Bruce Traywick in 1959. “Pan out,” he instructed. “There’s nothing around.”
And there wasn’t, aside from another farmhouse dotted here or there, illustrating plainly the measurement of a country mile. Once you pan out far enough, you see a patchwork quilt of fields, all unique in size, some farmed, others fallow. But zoom back in, and you can see the spot where he grew up – a little half-ellipse of grass surrounded by acres and acres of cornfields, with a house, a barn, a shop, and a grain bin out back.
I asked him what kind of grain bin it was. “What the fuck does it matter?” he countered. “Corn, I guess.”
“What kind, though?” My dad sells grain bins back in South Dakota. “Butler? Brock? Sukup? Chief? Sioux?”
“Just the big silos you see everywhere. I have no idea. But I smoked my first cigarette behind that grain bin, the week of the Boll Weevil Festival, then my grandma whupped me good.”
True country folk.
While Randy’s made a living out of it, it’s taken folks like me and my friends a little longer to come back around to country music as adults. My friends all grew up in places where all the country music clichés applied – heavy-drinkin’ daddies and daddies who ran away and daddies in prison and mamas who tried and corn fields and cattle yards and fishin’ holes and trucks, trucks, trucks. And trains. If you grew up where we did, there’s a sure bet at some point you were living near a set of train tracks.
They’re folks like us who outgrew our small towns and escaped to bigger ones, only to find we couldn’t shake off the country in us in some shape or form, be it a shameless appreciation for country pop music, or a preference for beer drunk out of a bottle (and drunk sitting next to a politically-incorrect old man with a sizable beer belly; one who may even punctuate his conversation with a grunt or likelier, a fart, though with full acknowledgment of the fact we’ll commit to stomp that motherfucker if he tries to fuck with any marginalized person who happens to cross his shitty old racist dinosaur path). A gravitation toward county fairs, or a desire to drive pickups and blow a paycheck on boots from Schatzlein’s, the old German tack shop that has maintained sufficient clientele to continue selling Western-wear and repairing saddles in the heart of Minneapolis for over a hundred years. Our lives are country music clichés, and for me, country has shown me not only who I had become, and who I didn’t want to be, but it also helped me embrace who I was, and where I came from.
During the years I strayed from country, the form certainly wasn’t hurting for lack of my personal support and patronage. It remains one of the most popular kinds of music in America; where I grew up it was the thing nearly everyone listened to. Your mom, your grandmom, the 4-H kids who sewed quilts and showed hogs, the jocks and the popular kids, the couples playing league at the Village Bowl, the guys working on cars in the auto shop, the ladies serving up coffee and apple pie at the Airport Cafe and Lounge, a diner named for the spot where it resided, with a view of one of my hometown’s two runways. Where album sales are declining in nearly every other genre, year after year, country manages to maintain its popularity.
For a genre that gets such a bad rap, what is it about country music that still makes it so damned appealing to so many people? Well, I think Harlan, Faith and Garth were on to something. This hillbilly music, with lyrics set to fiddles and steel guitars, speaks a truth about life, about love, about hardship, and occasionally, about drinkin’, fuckin’ and fightin’, though you won’t hear many people outside country outlaws David Allan Coe and Hank III, Hank Williams’ grandson, use that specific terminology. And to think, I thought country wasn’t punk.
There’s a country song for every abused woman, for every philandering husband, for gettin’ the pink slip or just plain hatin’ your boss. For wanting to drink your troubles away or bang like your broken screen door. Charley Pride and Ronnie Milsap wrote tender songs of love, Conway Twitty wrote of lust and longing, and David Allan Coe wrote that he’s fallen out of love with his woman and replaced the spot on the pillow where she used to lay her head. Replaced it with a big ol’ cumstain, to be completely clear. Tom T. Hall sings, simply, “I like beer.” Why? Because it makes him a jolly good fellow, of course. In moderation, Tom; as with all things, in moderation.
From forty-hour work weeks to cumstains, there’s a truth there somewhere that speaks to us all. And for some of us, these country clichés can even prove instructive. I guarantee that if you just give a listen, there’ll be a country song out there that speaks to you, too.
My baby was conceived in the hot tub of the hot tub suite at the AmericInn across the highway from the Walmart and nearer the only mall in my hometown on the South Dakota prairie. Only mall if you don’t count the original, the Super City Mall, built in 1964 and holding distinction as the state’s first shopping mall.
I would write in my diary when I wanted to talk about a boy but the next sleepover was still a week away, kids then not being allowed to talk on the phone for hours as I imagine they are today, or when I was mad at my parents. Otherwise, the thing would sit untouched until I received a new one, committed to fill the old one before starting the new, an initiative that would last maybe a week and resulted in a lot of quarter-filled diaries. The last was completed when I first got my hands on Internet, WebCrawlered those Nirvana lyrics that had always eluded me, and hurriedly jotted them in my journal before my history teacher discovered I wasn’t researching history.
Who adds mariachi horns to a country-western song? This guy does. Rest in peace, Cowboy Jack.
Too many sad songs? Fuck it, I’ll admit I’m listening to “Good Year for the Roses” right now. The sad stuff’s just too good.
“I was kind of shy as a lad, and a lot of things that made me laugh I found did not make other people laugh. I guess what I always found funny was the human condition. There is a certain comedy and pathos to trouble and accidents.”