Monday, October 29, 2007

"Country"

Two weekends ago, when I was up visiting Vermont, I listened to a bunch of country radio while driving around.

At one point there was a string of songs, starting with Eric Church "Pledge Allegiance to the Hag" (as in Merle Haggard) and including "Country Boy" by Ricky Skaggs, which are all about being a fan of country music and/or being a proponent of the "country music lifestyle". I was really happy when Kenny Chesney came on and we finally got a song that wasn't about how "country" the singer was.

Anyway, this isn't a new trend in country music: these kinds of "identity politics" country songs make up a good portion of Hank Williams, Jr.'s catalog. But I was having a hard time thinking of any of these kinds of songs that pre-date HW2. I mean, I've listened to a lot of country music, but never in a very systematic way, so there might be some obvious stuff that I'm missing/forgetting here. Any recommendations of "early" country songs that deal primarily, self-referentially with country music or living a self-consciously "country" lifestyle would be greatly appreciated.

6 comments:

The Derelict said...

What about "You're Looking At Country" by Loretta Lynn? It's not about country music specifically, but it's definitely about how "country" Ms. Lynn is.

Jon Hastings said...

Yeah - that's a good one, too. And bringing up Loretta, I'm reminded that I do know of a longer tradition of self-referential "honky tonk" songs.

Noah Berlatsky said...

Johnny Cash's "Country Boy," Jones and Wynette's "We're Not the Jet Set" (doesn't mention country specifically, but still definitely in the genre); perhaps least pleasantly Merle Haggard's "White Boy." I'm sure there are others.

James said...

Wait - you were in Vermont Oct 13/14? Damn, C. and I were there then too. Montpelier: just about the only place we knew to go. It was so rainy and glum out, we didn't get a chance to do any good hiking.

As to the music thing: I wonder if the country music identity politics thing is related to the gangsta rap identity politics thing? It's very difficult to find a rap song that isn't about how bad-ass the rapper is...

Jon Hastings said...

Noah - Thanks! Those are really good examples, partly because they suggest a shift that has gone on in country music. It's interesting (to me) to look at the difference between "We're Not the Jet Set" - an "identity" song based on socio-economic situation you were born into - and, say, "Gone Country" - where "country" is completely a lifestyle you can take on at will, no matter where your roots are.

James - I think we were there on the 20/21st, actually. But it was a great weekend. We were worried we'd miss "peak" leaf season, but we hit it exactly for the valley. We had great weather, but ended up not doing much hiking because we were tired out from putting stuff into storage.

I think that's a good point re: gangsta rap. To a certain extent, the music stops referring to anything outside itself, cycling back into its own fantasy vision of "country" or "gangsta".

Noah Berlatsky said...

I think the link between country and gangsta is authenticity, yes? Music that makes very strong authenticity claims can often end up being a sort of round of "I'm real, I'm real, I'm real, I'm real...COUNTRY (or gangsta, or whatever.)" I mean, you can't really imagine Brittney singing a series of songs about how she's pop...because being "real" pop is kind of meaningless. You do have it in rock, though ("I dig that old time rock n'roll," "Keep on rockin' in the free world," etc.) Jazz escapes, maybe, since there's so much of it that's instrumental....