Thursday, April 7, 2016

A Rant On The State Of Modern Country Music Out Of Thin Air

So there I was watching the Academy of Country Music Awards. It was a lesser of two evils choice.  I was westbound on Southwest from Love Field, headed for Oakland, while Katy Perry and Dolly Parton made boob jokes and sang Coat of Many Colors, Jolene and 9 to 5.  The other options were less appealing.  Whatever happened to the days when the airlines provided varied playlists and free headphones? Even the magazine was unappealing – a boring shill for “partner” advertisers. I tried to sleep as Chris Stapleton mumbled through another sound alike song.

Whatever happened to great Country and Western Music – Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Chet Atkins, Hoyt Axton, Earl Flatt, June Carter, Les Paul, Tennessee Ernie Ford?  It was twangy, forlorn, sometimes irritable, but it told a story, featured amazing string work and offered rhythm without a drum set.  With a bend and warble you could be missing your wife or riding the range.

My mind drifted as the hum of jet engines giddyap’d us over the stark Four Corners. Modern Country has become a mix of mediocrity when it had promise to be a mixture of blues, southern rock and old school country and western.  Today it means overhype, overproduction and gratuitous glam.  You will see more silver, blue and gold at a Modern Country show than you will at a Randy Bachman or Prince concert.

There was promise for a new, modern Country in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, even into the 1990’s – the Band, Marshall Tucker Band, the Dead, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Little River Band.  Why has it now turned into nostalgia, hip hop slop and muddy metal?


After a Rocky Mountain high, my head drew parallels between Joseph Smith and Country Joe Turner.  I also pondered who would name an angel “Moroni.”  I thought, are Donny and Marie and Pat Boone to blame?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  They didn’t buy their own albums. It was not their fault.

Around the Nevada border I couldn’t stop thinking of all of the great Country artists who graced its dichotomous debauchery – Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, Garth Brooks, Elvis.  They had something.  A few, like Willie Nelson, still do (could it be marijuana produces superior Modern Country music?  A self-investigation for another time.)

It is the current crop of country crooners that leaves me cold.  Torn designer shirts and jeans, big busted babes, high heel cowboy boots and ten gallon hats on over produced, technically-trained, millionaire performers. I recalled a time when a great country performer tried to rub two nickels together and suggested the working man, the salt of the earth – Sonny James, George Jones, Kitty Wells, Buck Owens, Jimmy Dean.

The cabin lights came on and we descended the Sierras toward OAK.  I turned off the TV feed, disgusted with the state of Modern Country music as exhibited at the ACM Awards.  I still hold out some hope for the genre.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it was the imminent start of baseball season that made me think of lyrics by Tug McGraw’s son that gave me hope.  Here is Tim’s lyric that came to mind:

           Hold the door, say please, say thank you
           Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie
           I know you’ve got mountains to climb but
           Always stay humble and kind
           When the dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
           When the work you put in is realized
           Let yourself feel the pride but
           Always stay humble and kind  

What is missing in Modern Country? Authenticity, passion and humility.  Those attributes never go out of style.

-Old School

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