I never thought I would need to defend the honor of country music in The American Spectator, but we live in strange times. Willie Nelson is releasing a song about homosexual cowboys, and though I suspect Willie is being tongue-in-cheek, the subversive subject matter will generate quite a buzz among the cool kids. And now twice in the Spectator’s pixellated pages, Mark Gauvreau Judge has denigrated country music — most recently as “tacky, cheesy, and feckless.”
Surely an aesthete like Mr. Judge knows that there is a time and place for different things; and surely he would not advocate that Frescobaldi sonatas be piped over a rodeo’s PA system. I’ll grant there’s a lot of really sorry country music out there these days. But there’s a lot of good stuff, too, and it’s not out of place in an ordered life — especially one that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Then there’s a new book out about the odd politics of country music. I haven’t read Rednecks and Bluenecks, but it claims to show that like most of us, country music singers have somewhat complex political views.
Well, duh. Most fans have heard Willie endorsed Kucinich, Toby is a registered Democrat, and Merle opposes the Iraq war. These people are musicians, and the music industry is full of libertines, dopeheads, anarchists, and communists. For the most part the music industry has Hollywood’s values, just with uglier people.
It’s also full of people who can set a true or moving thought to music. It’s no secret that many of those thoughts in country music are, at the least, pro-family, religious, populist, and patriotic. And often amid the twangy lyrics and sad steel guitars one detects a genuinely conservative sentiment expressed with poetic economy and authentic grace.
I pity the fool who just listens to music for its political content. But it sure is nice to hear these ideas sung proudly and well. So for Mr. Judge and all those scoffing at the red-state affinity for country music, here are fifteen examples of great country songs with great conservative ideas:
15. Ninety Miles an Hour — Hank Snow
It seems strange to start out such a list with a song about cheating, but this song about a doomed affair is one of the best of the bunch for showing the underlying conscience of honky-tonk songs. It’s the plea of a man who realizes that he has lost the ability to control himself. Unlike so much popular music that rhapsodizes unleashed eros, that’s not a source of pride. Infidelity, in country music, is almost always something to feel guilty about — or, at least, it is acknowledged that it is something one ought to be ashamed of.
14. Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue — Toby Keith
There’s the sophisticated academic-in-training part of my brain that thinks this is lowbrow, jingoistic schlock. There’s also the country-music-lover part of my heart that still hasn’t forgiven Toby Keith for “I Wanna Talk About Me.” But then they ring those chimes, and every time, I’m clenching my jaw and fighting back the tears. There’s nothing false about the song. That’s how a lot of us really feel.
Plus, I think it would be the most effective of any song on this list at goading the far left into a frothing snit. Play it proudly at your next local WCW demonstration and see if I’m right.
13. Sink the Bismarck — Johnny Horton
Johnny Horton sang a lot of irresistibly corny songs about American history. “Sink the Bismarck” is instead a tribute to the British sailors on the doomed HMS Hood, sunk by the fearsome German battleship Bismarck in the 1941 Battle of the Denmark Strait. The sailors — and, explicitly invoking Churchill, the British people — give the last full measure of devotion despite being terrifically outgunned by the German navy.
(There was a rumor going around that Horton had recorded some nasty racist songs, but that is pretty well shot down here.)
12. Let’s Roll — The Bellamy Brothers
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online