A love/hate relationship
Growing up in small town western Colorado, country music was always playing. At the grocery store, in restaurants, in everyone’s cars – this music created the backdrop for my childhood. However, as is often the case, eventually the cool kids decided that country music wasn’t “cool,” and I followed suit. I assumed that in order to affiliate myself more closely with the cool kids rather than the hicks, I should listen to Green Day and Alanis Morissette (whose “Jagged Little Pill” album, let it be noted, remains one of my most formative musical experiences – I still love it*).
But when I was 13, through a variety of circumstances, I heard three songs that captured me and, although I didn’t see it at the time, literally changed my life. And they were all on country radio.
Brooks & Dunn’s “My Maria” was full of harmonies and awesome background parts, and was one of the most feel-good songs I had ever heard. Shania Twain’s “Any Man of Mine” exploded from the speakers, and was sassy and fun and different – a lively, cheeky, boot-stompin’ ride. And finally, Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” tugged at my emotions like I had never experienced until then. Written by Matraca Berg, who turned out to be one of my favorite writers, the song is intensely autobiographical, and tells the story of one girl’s loss of innocence. It’s a song, but even more, it’s a story; I love that country music has retained the craft of story-telling.
These three songs opened up the door for me to learn the rich history of country music. “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “’Til I Can Make It On My Own”… Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette and George Jones… My spirit was fed by these songs, and they set me off on a path that has led me to where I am today: living in Nashville, attempting to write better songs, and just maybe, good songs. I want to write truthful music. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I crash and burn, writing things that are so banal and cheesy that I would never share them with anyone. But I keep trying, so inspired by the writers of good music.
Which is why Toby Keith’s latest song, “She’s A Hottie,” feels like a kick in the back of the knee-cap. Haven’t heard it? Hmmm, let me give you a sampling of some of the lyrics:
Hottie! She’s a hottie! Got a smokin’ little body!
String bikini and a barbed-wire tat,
She’s a rockin’ that cowboy hat!
Hey mister! Yeah, I kissed her!
Son, you oughta see her sister!
Toby Keith is huge. He’s HUGE. People love him. And I don’t get it.
It’s writing like this that helps me to understand when people tell me that they don’t like country music. OF COURSE you don’t like country music, when this is what’s represented on the radio.
I challenge us all to expect more from our music. There are amazingly talented people out there, full of musical depth and craft, and just because they aren’t readily accessible on the radio doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t go digging for them. Good music is enriching and transporting and, as I can attest to, potentially life-changing.
And if you have any suggestions of songs/albums that I just need to hear, regardless of genre, I want to know what they are.
*Perhaps you remember Alanis’ song “You Oughta Know.” Jonathan Coulton did a cover of this song, and you can access it here. It is one of the most remarkable transformations of a song I have ever heard, and proves that there are no bounds to a well-written song. However, please note that this is a very raw and adult song, and there are some vulgarly honest and potentially offensive words (yep, including an F-bomb). If this might affect you, don’t listen. But if you’ve been jaded by exposure to harsh words and years of hard livin’, like I have, then check it out.