Things I learned listening to pop country music

country music

I’ve skipped popular country music for the last five to 10 years — Is Alan Jackson still happening? Do people still do the Boot Scoot Boogie and the Watermelon Crawl? Is the industry still exploiting tragedy and calling it patriotism?

I’ve done some Robbie Fulks, Webb Pierce and Hank Williams but skipped the modern stuff. Lately, though, I’ve been listening to pop country stations while driving. Some things I’ve learned:

  • A tailgate’s position is the standard for measuring a party’s success, as well as a female’s interest in a night of impromptu intercourse. (Note: You want the tailgate down.)
  • This female is often wearing a sundress, although jeans, too, are common, and seen approaching from under a water tower or across a hay field, illuminated by the headlights of an American pickup truck.
  • Women are better if they prefer beer to wine, but “shooting whiskey” is the best. This woman, the whiskey drinker, is the great, white country buffalo.
  • A Hank Williams reference seems to equal country credibility/punk rockness. It is unclear if that cred is undermined by a product placement in a neighboring lyric.
  • It is OK to make up your own geography. One song has a lyric about a person who’s never been south of Queens, which is near impossible. If someone lives in Queens, they’ve probably been, at least once, to Manhattan, which, if you’ve ever looked at a map, is south of Queens. But in country music, there are only two states — Georgia and Texas — and anywhere that isn’t there isn’t America.
  • No one has iPhones because people still wait all night to hear one song on the radio.

Disclaimer: I know all pop music is heavily commercialized. Whole tours are sponsored by corporations. It is unfair and lazy to single out one genre for this. However, the level of redundancy in pop country is staggering. It’s as if there’s a list of subject matter, plots and buzz words that, if not followed, a Nashville cabal of men in black will come to your house, confiscate your belt buckle and issue you a Prius. Can we, for the love of Hank, mix it up? (And yes, I know this sort of thing has always been a much-mocked mainstay of country music. It just seems to have gotten worse.)

Speaking of Hank… Here is some Hank — some of my favorite Hank. First: “Rockin’ Chair Money.”

Next: “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It.” I love the everyman futility of this song.

Now: “The Angel of Death.” This song is sad and haunting in a way that only songs of this era — Hank died in 1953 after years of alcohol and drug abuse — can be sad and haunting. Its strength is that it addresses death in a way that transcends belief and religion. Everyone confronts themselves in the end.

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