If you thought my obsession with a foreign soccer team was sacrilegious, an act of betrayal of the stars and stripes Benedict Arnold could’ve only dreamed up, perhaps this makes up for it: I like country music.
I was suspicious. I was more than suspicious, frankly, I was completely unwilling to ever give country music a chance. For 21 ½ years I never so much as subjected myself to a country song. The second it came on in my car as I station surfed, I’d smash the dial and look visibly irritated for a couple minutes. If it happened a second time, and I was alone, I’d shout a tirade of cuss words. My car is my sanctuary, and they can’t put me in an asylum based on what I say in there if I keep it together outside the car. I take full advantage of this fact.
Those I associated with didn’t listen to it. I’m not gonna suggest that I selected my friends based on the likelihood they were prone to listening to country, but I’m not gonna not suggest it passed my mind in the early stages of the friend selection process. All 3 times I have made a friend, it was on the back of my mind.
What you have to understand is that, yes, Massachusetts is geographically located in what we call the United States of America, but it is not really America. The North Shore of Massachusetts, where us aardvarks hail from, even less so. It is educated suburbia, coastal liberalism, far enough away from Boston that we don’t talk like Bostonians but close enough that we desperately want to say we grew up there. It doesn’t help that the vast majority of our parents were raised in or right on the outskirts of the city.
They bought homes in quaint suburbia to give us backyards and neighborhoods we could wander around in quite freely, decent school systems and manageable proximity to the ocean, middle-of-nowhere New Hampshire, and Boston all at the same time. We, in turn, resent them for it.
The knock on New Yorkers, and you can extend it to Bostonians and those who live up its coast, San Franciscoans, Seattleites, is that if a zombie apocalypse ever came about they’d be the first to go. All the people in the heartland and all those southerners that they look down upon are the ones that would know how to survive. Those hicks would be the ones that could fish and hunt and grow crops. It would come down to the survival skills you crafted, and no think piece in The New Yorker would save you. The zombies would likely seize all operating Starbucks first—a mere training exercise for the true battle that lied out in a cornfield in Nebraska.
This is of course a vast generalization, there are those that both live here and possess “life skills,” James and Uncle Doogs both serving as prime examples, and I, myself, wouldn’t classify it as a strength of mine but when push came to shove I could recall some of what I learned in Boy Scouts and probably hold my own for some duration of time. So maybe it is not necessarily that us coastal-latte-sipping-fucks don’t possess the skills at all, but maybe instead it is just that we’re not using them to sustain our livelihood on a daily basis like a kid on the farm in Wisconsin would’ve been.
Whatever it is, what I’m getting it is that we are not naturally predisposed to liking country music in these parts. When Keith Urban goes, And I’m a child of a backseat freedom/baptized by rock and roll/Marilyn Monroe and the Garden of Eden/never grow up, never grow old/Just another rebel in the great wide open/on the boulevard of broken dreams/And I learned everything I needed to know from John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16, I can’t help but think, “Holy shit there has never been a song written that could describe my life any less.” The examples of this situation in which I’m listening to a country song that describes a state of existence that is totally different from my own are endless: I haven’t sat around frying chicken or know what it’s like to own a tractor. I’ve never driven my truck down the back road to the stream on the edge of town and proceeded to dance in the bed of my truck with the girl of my dreams and listen to country music.
That’s not how it worked around here. But what I’ve come to realize this past year, predominantly during car rides by myself between my hometown and Durham, NH on Sunday afternoons and early Monday mornings, is that I don’t think I would’ve minded if that’s what my life consisted of as a kid. I don’t think I’d mind if, in some capacity, that’s what life becomes.
There’s a simplicity to it that is mesmerizing. I spend enough of my time up my own pretentious ass sifting through op-eds, reading Stendhal partly because I want to push my intellectual limits but partly because I can also go, “Yeah, I read Stendhal, ingenious commentary on what it’s like to have radical tendencies but know deep down that you have to enslave yourself to the bourgeoisie class if you want to get anywhere in life. At least that’s been my takeaway, anyway.”
But isn’t there also a part of me that just wants to sip an ice cold beer and spend time with good people and good food on a sunny day? Sunny and 75, to be exact. Yes, all the fucking time! Perhaps all the people not living on the coast have realized this too. Perhaps these country artists could sing about a more diversified array of topics, stimulate the mind in the way that The National, Fleet Foxes, or Bon Iver can (all staples in a coastal kid’s diet), but maybe they’ve just come to appreciate that the best things in life can be right in front of you and it doesn’t take a whole heck of a lot of money to acquire them.
More likely, the artists realize this is the way their audience thinks. Beer, women, the open road, sunshine, these are all profoundly good things.
We could take a closer look at the latent misogyny prevalent in country music, its awkward history with race relations, its reluctance to admit that America can and has made grave mistakes. My colleague has done just that in his stellar piece, and that is just the tip of the iceberg if you dig deeper.
But for now, let’s not. If you’re a fan of country music, you’re probably reading this going I told you so. If you’ve always written it off, maybe give it a second look. You may very well still dislike the instrumentals and find the subject matter banal and, at worst, insulting and I can respect that take.
As life grows ever more complex and I weigh the different directions my life could go, discovering country music more than anything else has calmed my anxiety a bit. There are certain gifts in life that you can always fall back on, and plenty more that I could try for the first time. I can appreciate just what it means to those who have lived a country life and why they will continue to sing songs to celebrate it.
I have not lived a country life. Part of me wishes I had. Part of me says I still might adopt it. That’s been the power of the simple songs for me.