Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 31 Dec 07 11:37
>very small town America That's where I live. I live in a town of less than 10,000 people, and there were more than a dozen yellow ribbons on the fence around the city park. Nampa, the second biggest city in Idaho, lost a guy during 9/11 and has its own set of yellow ribbons. There was a kid in my daughter's daycare who had both parents go to the Middle East, and I'd have to stop and count on my fingers to think how many people I know personally had a mother, father, spouse, cousin over there. Fortunately they've all come back in one piece, so far. Complicated is right. A real significant plurality of Idahoans identify as independent, even if they happen to be voting Republican right now, and there was a big furor at the notion of having to register to vote in the Republican primary because that would cut out those people. A number of our politicians, including our governor, are identified more as Libertarian even if they have an R next to their names. A fair number of people are a lot more live and let live about things like homosexuality, drug use, being a Democrat, etc. than one might expect given the high proportion of Republicans we have. I don't think Keith supports Bush per se other than as a mechanism for supporting the troops, and he has issues with some of the ways the wars have been conducted. He's upset about 9/11. He supports the soldiers. According to one interview, he's "patriotic not political," and I think that describes it pretty well. Yes, you've got The Angry American but you've also got I'm Not Smoking Pot with Willie No More.
Liz Mechem (thelizwiz) Tue 1 Jan 08 20:27
Sharon, thanks so much for checking in on this. Living part of the time in a rural, poor county and the rest of the time in a suburb of New York full of self-employed artists and latte-drinking rich people, I know full well who's fighting the war and who isn't. But I also see that the sentiments are much more complicated among my neighbors in Claryville than they are in Nyack. Here in latte-land, I think many folks secretly equate supporting the troops with supporting the war -- even though our bumper stickers say otherwise. Up in Claryville, where they listen to Toby Keith, not Willie Nelson (more on this below), they're more angry about the war than we are, because their kids are over there. But there's pride mixed with the anger, and that's the thing that makes it hard for an outsider to understand. It seems to boil down to this: I don't like the fact that they're over there, but since they are, I'm going to be proud of their service and sacrifice. The pride is the consolation prize for the loss and hardship. And again, there are as many variations on this question as there are front doors in any given town. Before I jump back to the tantalizing questions raised by Mark and get to John's blue state/red state question, boy, gotta give props to Rik. Dr. Hook was such a great amalgam of gritty American genres that was so right at the time. I remember buying the Grateful Dead's Europe '72 when it came out, at the Record Factory in SF's Inner Sunset -- the latest from our local boys, and springing for a Dr. Hook record -- was it Sloppy Seconds? The two went together: a country apart, but drawing on so many of the same roots. Didn't realize that the band had spent so much time in Nashville, but of course it makes sense. Thanks for mentioning Tompall Glaser; he gets left off many discussions of the Outlaw movement as he's overshadowed by Waylon and Willie. Did you ever meet up with David Allen Coe during the early 70s? He pretty much defined the anti-establishment element in Nashville then, from what I understand. The red state/blue state question is something I don't really feel qualified to answer. But that won't stop me from trying. One of the things that helped with writing this book, since I HAD to cover artists like Brooks and Dunn and Rascal Flatts, newer acts whose politics and commercialism rub me the wrong way, was that I had to look hard at what they were contributing to their fans, even if I wasn't one of them. What the heck was the appeal? I read all the spin and listened to their music and watched their videos and live performances. With Rascal Flatts, I came up a little short, I admit. There's just very little there there. Brooks and Dunn had a video that came out post 9/11 and pre-invasion (remember those few months?) that was all about inclusiveness and how America is for everyone, etc., but just as quickly, they turned around and supported Bush's war. Put that in contrast to the Dixie Chicks, and there's your divide right there. When you used to talk crossover in country you were talking about the country/pop crossover acts of Eddy Arnold and his ilk in the 50s, or then the country/rock crossover of 80s acts like Alabama, or even Shania or Tim McGraw with their hip-hop dabblings. But there's another kind of country crossover - the kind that aims to be both popular and true to its roots. The Dixie Chicks kind of embody this. They can snag the people in the Volvos and the SUVs alike. (Full disclosure: I drive a Volvo, and Chris drives an SUV). One of the big divides now in country seems to be between excessively produced music and live acts, and those that favor acoustic instruments and rootsier, more pared-down arrangements -- alt country, if you will. It seems somewhat simplistic, and there are exceptions galore, but the same dividing line that separates these two groups seems to run along red/blue lines, with the red favoring the hyped, mass-appeal stuff and the blue on the side of the unplugged. Not too surprising, really. But again, it's more a cultural divide than a regional one. You can buy a nice little Willie Nelson complilation in Starbucks.
Liz Mechem (thelizwiz) Tue 1 Jan 08 20:42
Sharon, your post made me think of Merle Haggard. There's some crossover for you: "Let's get out of Iraq and get back on track," says the same ol' Hag who gave us "Okie from Muskogee" and "Working Man Blues." It's too easy to just say sheep on one side, goats on the other. The best are above that fray.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Tue 1 Jan 08 21:30
One really wonderful thing about living in what is arguably the most Republican state in the Union is learning nuance and that not everything is black and white -- or red and blue, for that matter.
cookin' something up (robertflink) Wed 2 Jan 08 05:02
OTOH, nuance can ruin a good political dog fight. BTW, my early love of country music was due, in large part, to the anti-glitz idea. I get a little "cognitive dissonance" when I see glitzy anti-glitz.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 2 Jan 08 06:03
Merle Haggard is a guy who thinks for himself. Even when he was nominally running down all of us sandal-wearing pot-smoking types, I sensed a kindred spirit and actually owned a couple of his albums back in hippie days.
Liz Mechem (thelizwiz) Wed 2 Jan 08 12:03
Just heard this excellent segment on Soundcheck on WNYC, an interview with Tony Russell, country music historian. He has a new book out with the word "Legends" in it too, and he keeps it real. Some good clips here, including an amazing recording from 1922. http://www.wnyc.org/shows/soundcheck/episodes/2008/01/02 BTW, I need to correct an earlier mistake, when I attributed a theory of Russell's to Bill C. Malone, another country music historian. It was Russell, not Malone, who came up with the theory of the two strains of country music springing from either the Carter Family or Jimmie Rodgers.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 2 Jan 08 13:33
Thanks for the pointer, Liz. And thanks, also, to both Liz and Chris for joining us for the past couple weeks to talk about their book, "Legends of Country," and to share so many fascinating tidbits about country music and its rich history and roots. A big tip o' the hat to John Ross, too, for so ably leading this conversation. It's been really rewarding. Though we've turned our virtual spotlight to a new guest, this doesn't mean this discussion has to stop. The topic will remain open for further comments indefintely, so if you can stick around, please feel welcome to do so. If you must go, thanks for being here, and good luck with your next project!
Chris Carroll (marvy) Wed 2 Jan 08 14:45
Thank you. It's been a real pleasure for me, as well. Though I learned thta my wife is quite a bit more long winded and erudite than I. Funny, that doesn't seem to be the case around the house, here, go figure! Enjoyed talking with you all, and look forward to seeing you around the Well. I've offered to treat Liz to a year if she decides to stick around so you might well see her around these parts as, uh, well.
Liz Mechem (thelizwiz) Wed 2 Jan 08 18:28
Thanks to all who participated! And thanks to Cynthia for inviting us and to John for some good, probing questions. I'll be checking in every day or so, and will keep sharing news or new good country music we hear about. Now I'm on to the next writing project -- this time a book on world religions. Not too far a leap from country music. Maybe I'd better check in with the Writer's conference for some tips on curbing my longwindedness.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 3 Jan 08 12:40
Yeah, this was a really fun discussion. Thankfully, my wife actually kinda likes country music (at least enough not to complain when I play it), but I don't ordinarily get to have conversations about the deep cultural meaning of Nudie suits.
John Ross (johnross) Thu 3 Jan 08 12:45
I can just see it now...the publsher is aiming the book at the TBN market, so their list of world religions is limited to mainstream Christians and a few colorfully mistaken others -- Jews, Buddhists and Mormons. But nothing about Wiccans, Animists or the Greek Pantheon, who are just too obscure...
John Ross (johnross) Thu 3 Jan 08 12:48
More seriously, thanks from me, as well. When I first looked through the book, I found myself making a mental list of people who should have been in it. But as we got into the discussion, it became clear that Chris and Liz probably have a similar list of their own, so the discussion moved into some interesting paths.
Get Shorty (esau) Thu 3 Jan 08 13:58
I really enjoyed the discussion, reading it all offline but never managing to pose a question. Of course, I have a few things to add but I'll let them go. There's a little moment from several years back when Jon Stewart hosted some music awards show, probably the American Music Awards. A fairly new-on-the-scene Shania Twain performed, doing a high-gloss dance production number behind her hit of the moment. I watched it thinking, jeez, she's a knockout, but this music is basically Britney Spears dance-pop sung with a slight twang. Jon Stewart comes back onstage and says, "So that's country music?," suppressing a barely concealed smile. "I gotta check that out."
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