Wednesday, December 15, 2004

I'm Gone Country - Part I


Ever since I wrote the post about Red and Blue cultural tastes (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/09/red-and-blue-cultural-tastes.html) I meant to write more about country music, especially what we can learn from its lyrics. Now, after election, when everyone on the Three Coasts and in Ivory Towers is scratching their heads about the very existence of those aliens living in Red rural areas, perhaps I should try again - you never know if it may be illuminating. Of course, lyrics of songs are not accurate reflections of reality - they are a mix of reality (what is), longing (what we wish to be), and false pretense (how we wish to be perceived). Still, it may be worth a look.

If I were from a Tennessee holler, I would probably hide my affinity towards country music here, in the Academia, in a City. But, being a foreigner I am permitted to like whatever I want - it seems kinda sweet to the locals. Confession - I have always liked American country music, even while growing up in Yugoslavia. Upon arriving here, I learned even more about it. One of my pre-set radio buttons in the car is on 94.7QDR and, whenever I get bored with NPR I switch over to see what country songs are playing these days. You can imagine faces of people around me when they hear George Strait blasting away from a station-wagon covered with Democratic stickers!

As progressive and liberal as I always thought of myself, I always loved the village, loved chatting with peasants, loved getting down and dirty in the mud. My cosmopolitan globetrotting Professor brother is right when he jokes that I'll be the happiest once I have my own house full of pets, a garden to dig in, and a couple of good horses in the barn. Most of the horse-owners at the Belgrade racecourse are farmers. Some of the champion racing trotters earn their keep (and put on muscles) by plowing the fields in-between race-meets. I felt entirely comfortable with these people. They made good-hearted fun (out of envy) of my education, and I envied their sharp wit and earthly wisdom. Although I was a pale bespectacled city-slicker, they respected me for my willingness to work hard, muck my horse's stall with my bare hands when straw was in short supply, and my courage to ride nutty horses. The racing jockeys 'hated' me bacause I could eat as much as I wanted and still be skinnier and lighter than any of them. But I could play my guitar and sing! I was King and God because of that. And I played mostly Serbian folk and country songs, all night long (12 hours straight once, without repeating a single song).

There is something powerful about the emotions of country songs, no matter in which language one sings them. A couple of years ago I was a regular on Tuesday nights in a neighborhood bar (East Village Bar & Grill - the best wings on East Coast). Tuesday was the karaoke night, of course. I sang everything, from Fats Domino to Joan Baez, from Platters to Beatles, from George Harrison to Gloria Gaynor, from Willie Nelson to Waylon Jennings, from David Allen Coe to Toby Keith. A little bit of foreign accent did not matter. But I also observed others and, after about a year of weekly sessions, got a pretty good idea who liked what songs. Let me focus on country alone, as that was the most popular genre there, especially later in the night, once alcohol makes everyone a tad bit more emotional.

So, let me start with the, by far, most popular country song: You Never Even Call Me By My Name - written by Steve Goodman and sang by David Allen Coe (or whichever drunk karaoker was on stage). Here's an excerpt from the very end - you can find the rest here: http://www.tabpower.com/s10456.html






"(spoken) Well, a friend of mine, Steve Goodman, wrote this
song and he said it was the perfect country and western song. I wrote him back a
letter and told him that it was not the perfect country-western song because he
hadn't said anything at all about Momma, or trains, or trucks, or prison, or
getting drunk. Well, he sat down and wrote another verse to the song and he sent
it to me and, after reading it, I realized that my friend had written the
perfect country-western song, and I felt obliged to include it on this album.
The last verse goes like this here:



Well I was drunk the day my Momma got out of prison
And
I went to pick her up in the rain
But before I could get to the station in
my pickup truck
My Momma, she got run over by a damned old train"


OK, let's look at that list of neccessary ingerients for the perfect country western song: Momma, trains, trucks, prison, and getting drunk. I believe that the train reference is a nostalgic symbol - nobody really uses Amtrack in this country any more. But the train used to be important means of transportation in the "good ole' days", and was frequently mentioned in the old songs, so it became a stand-in for the nostalgic image of the wide open spaces in the Wild West. Trucks are more recent addition to the songs, but are an important factor in self-definition of Red-Necks, together with guns (that lead to prison being so important), mongrel dogs (replacement for horses that were more common in older songs) as symbols of farming life, and booze - a reminder how tough life is (as well as perhaps of anti-government rebelliousness during Prohibition - moonshine is explicitely mentioned in many songs).

But what about Momma? Well, there is no Momma in country songs. At least not in the past 30 years or so. Do a google search of country lyrics, and you will scarcely find anything. If a mother is mentioned, she is no Momma. Momma is supposed to be a strong woman. Mothers in country songs, those few even mentioned, are quiet, pale, fragile, beautiful, but ultimately sad victims of their husbands' drinkin', cheatin', fishin', shootin' habits. On the other hand, Serbian folk songs are full of strong Mommas - women who make the decisions in the household.

On the other hand, country songs are full of Daddies. Check these out:

Please Daddy (Dont Get Drunk This Christmas) sung by John Denver


Please Daddy, dont get drunk this Christmas
I dont wanna see my Mumma cry
Please Daddy, dont get drunk this Christmas
I dont wanna see my Mumma cry
Just last year when I was only seven
And now Im almost eight as you can see
You came home at a quarter past eleven
Fell down underneath our Christmas tree

Please Daddy, dont get drunk this Christmas
I dont wanna see my Mumma cry
Please Daddy, dont get drunk this Christmas
I dont wanna see my Mumma cry
Mumma smiled and looked outside the window
She told me son, you better go upstairs
Then you laughed and hollered Merry Christmas
I turned around and saw my Mummas tears
Please Daddy, dont get drunk this Christmas
I dont wanna see my Mumma cry
Please Daddy, dont get drunk this Christmas
I dont wanna see my Mumma cry
No, I dont wanna see my Mumma cry


Or this one:

Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line
sung by Waylon Jennings

Everybody knows you've been steppin' on my toes
And I'm gettin' pretty tired of it
You keep a steppin' out of line
You're messin' with my mind
If you had any sense you'd quit'
Cause ever since you were a little bitty teeny girl
You said I was the only man in this whole world
Now you better do some thinkin' then you'll find
You got the only daddy that'll walk the line

I keep a workin' every day all you want to is play
I'm tired of stayin' out all night I'm comin' unglued
From your funny little moods
Now Honey baby that ain't right
You keep a packin' up my clothes nearly everybody knows
That you're still just a puttin' me on
But when I start a walkin'
Gonna hear you start a squawkin'
And beggin' me to come back home
You got the only daddy that'll walk the line


or this one:

Daddy Laid the Blues on Me
sung by Bobbie Cryner.


Well, way back in their younger days,
when they were running wild,
My Daddy had a dream,
and Momma had a child.

He said: "Girl you can't be tying me down,
I'm only seventeen."
An' a man's gotta get around,
if you know what I mean."
Then my Momma said:
"Go on," as she stood and cried,
And my Daddy said:
"I'm gone. I gotta live my life."

An' I was born one summer night,
When the world loved Patsy Cline.
I was raised by the tracks,
in a tar-paper shack,
On the Georgia-Alabama line.
Momma taught me how to play and sing,
And we headed up to Tennessee.
Momma sold my soul on Country rock and roll,
But Daddy laid the blues on me.

Well I signed that dotted line,
and I climbed my way to being a star.
When I ran across my Daddy,
in a downtown Tallahasse bar.
He said: "Girl there ain't no life on the road:
you better come with me."
I said: "Dad, I gotta get around if you know what I mean."
Well my Daddy said: "Come on,"
with a tear in his eye.
I said: "Sorry Daddy,
I'm gone, I gotta live my life,"


or this one:

Love without end - George Strait

I got sent home from school one day
with a shiner on my eye.
Fightin’ was against the rules
and it didn’t matter why.
When dad got home I told that story
just like I’d rehearsed.
And then stood there on those tremblin’ knees
and waited for the worst.

And he said, let me tell you a secret about a father’s love,
A secret that my daddy said was just between us.
He said, daddies don’t just love their children every now and then.
It’s a love without end, amen, it’s a love without end, amen.

When I became a father in the spring of ’81
There was no doubt that stubborn boy was just like my father’s son.
And when I thought my patience had been tested to the end,

I took my daddy’s secret and I passed it on to him.

And I said, let me tell you a secret about a father’s love,
A secret that my daddy said was just between us.
I said, daddies don’t just love their children every now and then.
It’s a love without end, amen, it’s a love without end, amen.

Last night I dreamed I died and stood outside those pearly gates.
When suddenly I realized there must be some mistake.
If they know half the things I’ve done, they’ll never let me in.
And then somewhere from the other side I heard these words again.

And he said, let me tell you a secret about a father’s love,
A secret that my daddy said was just between us.
He said, daddies don’t just love their children every now and then.
It’s a love without end, amen, it’s a love without end, amen.


or this one:

Tough Little Boys - Gary Allan

Well I never once
Backed down from a punch
Well I'd take it square on the chin
Well I found out fast
A bully's just that
You've got to stand up to him
So I didn't cry when I got a black eye
As bad as it hurt, I just grinned
But when tough little boys grow up to be dads
They turn into big babies again.

Scared me to death
When you took your first steps
And I'd fall everytime you fell down
Your first day of school, I cried like a fool
And I followed your school bus to town
Well I didn't cry,
when Old Yeller died
At least not in front of my friends
But when tough little boys grow up to be dads
They turn into big babies again

Well I'm a grown man
And as strong as I am
Sometimes its hard to believe
That one little girl, with little blonde curls
Could totally terrify me
If you were to ask
My wife would just laugh
She'd say "I know all about men
How when tough little boys grow up to be dads
They turn into big babies again"

Well I know one day, I'll give you away
And I'm gonna stand there and smile
And when I get home, and I'm all alone
Well, I'll sit in your room for a while
Well I didn't cry when Old Yeller died
At least not in front of my friends
But when tough little boys grow up to be dads
They turn into big babies again
When tough little boys grow up to be dads
They turn into big babies again.

or this one:

Dolly Parton: To Daddy
http://www.musicsonglyrics.com/D/dollypartonlyrics/dollypartontodaddylyrics.htm


Momma never seemed to miss the finer things in life
If she did, she never did say so to daddy
She never wanted to be more than mother and a wife
If she did, she never did say so to daddy

The only things that seemed to be important in her life
Was to make our house a home and make us happy
Momma never wanted anymore than what she had
If she did, she never did say so to daddy

He often left her all alone
She didn't mind the stayin' home
If she did, she never did say so to daddy
And she never missed the flowers
And the gifts he never gave her
If she did, she never did say so to daddy

Being took for granted was a thing that she accepted
And she didn't need those things to make her happy
She didn't even seem to notice
That he didn't kiss and hold her
If she did, she never did say so to daddy

One morning we awoke
Just to find the note
That momma carefully wrote
And left to daddy
And as he began to read it
Our ears could not believe it
The words that she had written there to daddy

She said our kids are old enough

And they don't need me very much
So I've gone in search for love I need so badly
I have needed you so long
But I just can't keep holdin' on
She never meant to come back home
If she did, she never did say so to daddy

The song appears to be about Momma, but it is really about Daddy. So, what kind of Daddy is that in this song and in the others? Hard on the outside - soft on the inside. Reluctant to show emotion. More comfortable around other men, than around women. Macho. The anxious male. Why are there no Fathers in Serbian folk songs? In a country of 'warriors'? I cannot recall a single song that mentions a father! Those guys also drink and galivant and drive trucks. Why are they not in songs? Is it because they actually have no problem showing emotion, even crying? Has that changed in the past decade or so, with losing four wars and losing national pride? I was gone, but hopefully, Eric Gordy from East Ethnia blog who wrote a book about it, can tell me if Father appeared in the newly-composed turbo-folk Serbian music.

Here's another popular one (American again):

Where I Come From- Alan Jackson

Well I was rollin' wheels and shiftin' gears'
Round that Jersey Turnpike
When Barney stopped me with his gun
Ten minutes after midnight
Said sir you broke the limit in that rusty ol' truck
I don't know about that accent son
Just where do you come from

I said where I come from
It's cornbread and chicken
Where I come from a lotta front porch sittin'
Where I come from tryin' to make a livin'
And workin' hard to get to heaven
Where I come from

Well I was south of Detroit City
I pulled in this country kitchen
To try their brand of barbecue
The sign said finger-lickin'
Well I paid the tab and the lady asked me
How'd I like my biscuit
I'll be honest with you ma'am
It ain't like mama fixed it'

Cause where I come from
It's cornbread and chicken
Where I come from a lotta front porch pickin'
Where I come from tryin' to make a livin'
Workin' hard to get to heaven
Where I come from

I was chasin' sun on 101
Somewhere around Ventura
I lost a universal joint and I had to use my finger
This tall lady stopped and asked
If I had plans for dinner
Said no thanks ma'am, back home
We like the girls that sing soprano'

Cause where I come from ...

Well I was headed home on 65
Somewhere around Kentucky
The CB rang for a bobtail rig
That's rollin' on like thunder
Well I answered him and he asked me
Aren't you from out in Tulsa
No, but you might have seen me there
I just dropped a load of salsa

Where I come from ...


OK, there's Mama, known for her cooking! There is a truck. Lots of food (nothing is more nostalgic). Some explicit anti-Northeast. Some explicit homophobia. Some explicit lazyness. And some explicit religion. No train, prison or drinking. Therefore, not a perfect country-western song. Is it real? Who is the author trying to sell the song to? Are those the same people that Rove was selling Bush to?

How about this one, currently very popular:

Blake Shelton - Some Beach
http://www.anycountrymusiclyrics.com/lyrics/133234/Blake_Shelton/Some_Beach


driving down the interstate
running thirty minutes late
singing margaritaville and minding my own
some foreign car driving dude
with a road rage attitude
pulled up beside me talking on his cell phone
he started yellin at me
like i did something wrong
he flipped me the bird and then he was gone


[chorus] some beach somewhere
there's a big umbrella
casting shade over an empty chair palm
trees are growing
warm breeze is blowing
i picture myself right there
on some beach somewhere


i circled the parking lot
tryin to find a spot
just big enough i could park my old truck
a man with a big cigar was gettin into his car
i stopped an i waited for him to back up
from out of nowhere a mercedes benz
came cruisin up and whipped right in


[chorus] some beach somewhere
there's a big umbrella
casting shade over an empty chair
palm trees are growing
warm breeze is blowing
i picture myself right there
on some beach somewhere
there's cold marguritas
and hot senioritas waiting there


i sit in that waiting room
it seemed like all afternoon
nurse finally said docs ready for you
but he stuck that needle down into my gum
and he started drillin before it was numb


[chorus] some beach somewhere
there's a big umbrella casting shade
over an empty chair
palm trees are growing
warm breeze is blowing
i picture myself right there
on some beach somewhere
there's a beautiful sunset
burnin up the atmosphere
there's music
on some beach
somewhere


Don't you think that "foreign car driving dude with a road rage attitude" had a "W" sticker on? Also the big guy with a cigar, as well as the guy who stole a parking spot with his Mercedes. That's my personal highway experience for the past year or so. The two classes of Republicans: the rich cynical sort, and the poor fearful sort, the former using and abusing the latter.

Now, let me have something straight. All those Alan Jackson, Toby Keith and George Strait songs were always sung by men at the karaoke night. What did women sing? Always, every night, with no error of omission, this Dixie Chicks song:

Goodbye Earl

Mary Ann and Wanda were the best of friends
all through their high school days
both members ofthe 4-H Club,
both active in the FFA.

After graduation Mary Ann went out,
looking for a bright new world.
Wanda looked all around this town
and all she found was Earl.

Well, it wasn't two weeks after she got married
that Wanda started gettin' abused.
She put on dark glasses, and long-sleeved blouses
and make-up to cover the bruise.

She finally got the nerve to file for divorce;
she let the law take it from there.
But Earl walked right through that restraining order
and put her in intensive care.

Right away Mary Ann flew in from Atlanta
on a red-eye midnight flight.
She held Wanda's hand, and they worked out a plan,
and it didn't take them long to decide that
Earl had to Die.

Goodbye, Earl.
Those black-eyed peas, they tasted alright to me, Earl.
You feelin' weak? Why don't you laid down and sleep, Earl.
Ain't it dark, wrapped up in that tarp, Earl?

Well, the cops came by to bring Earl in;
They searched the house high and low.
Then they tipped their hats and said
"Thank you, ladies, if you hear from him let us know."

Well the weeks went by, and spring turned to summer
and summer faded into fall.
And it turns out he was a missing person
Who nobody missed at all.

The girls bought some land and a road-side stand
down on highway 109.
They sell Tennessee ham and strawberry jam
and they don't lose any sleep at night,
'cause Earl had to die.

Goodbye, Earl.
We need a break; let's go out to the lake, Earl.
We'll pack a lunch, and stuff you in the trunk, Earl.
Well, is that alright? Good, let's go for a ride, Earl.

Whoo-hoo! This particular song was banned from radio as soon as it came out. No surprise all of Dixie Chicks repertoire was banned as soon as it was possible. The Red-state white male conservatives could not stand such an assault on their already fragile masculinity. Yet the girls love it! The young 'uns, especially. Perhaps feminism has taken root enough for the next generation to completely remove the shackles. I don't think Repubs can count on fearful women and submissive wives for much longer.


Update:

I am not the only one to think about country music these days. Lori at "a.d.d." is also musing about the meaning of country music and especially country dancing:

http://loribradley.typepad.com/add/2004/11/the_post_that_w.html

Publius is more serious - deep thoughts about Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam:

http://lawandpolitics.blogspot.com/2004_12_01_lawandpolitics_archive.html#110308409858591780



posted by coturnix @ 1:04 AM | permalink | (7 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink