While growing up in upstate New York, in the middle of nowhere, country music sank its hooks into me and it still hasn’t let go. While I’ve always liked most any kind of music, country music has been my main constant. When going to high school I didn’t readily admit my fascination with country so that I wouldn’t be seen as ‘uncool’ but the reality was that I couldn’t hide my love of the genre. For about 2 years (1994-1996) I didn’t listen to anything but the country music found on radio and in my ever growing CD collection. The artists I did manage to like ‘outside’ of country were Dave Matthews Band and that Hootie & The Blowfish record everyonehad. I stopped worrying about being uncool when I tool my Discman with me on baseball trips. I always had about 10-20 CDs to listen to on those trips and, perhaps because I grew up in a no-stoplight village, I found out that many of my teammates also liked country music.
As I went along I got family members and other friends to listen to country (even when some buddies didn’t want to) and what they heard, they actually liked. Nowadays most of my family likes the music. But do they like it because of my influence or do they like it because the genre happens to speak for them and their lives? That’s the beauty of country music. No matter what ‘type’ you happen to like, be it the mainstream contemporary country, the alt-country, Texas Country, classic country, or traditional country, there is something for anyone to enjoy.
Mainstream contemporary country may have little to do with the classic country of the 5o’s to the 70’s but that doesn’t mean the genre deserves to be called pop music. The hallmarks of what country music is are rooted in the fact that the songs are grounded in reality and they speak to the human condition in a direct, matter-of-fact way that pop and rock music often fails to do. The melodies may often be secondary to the words but that doesn’t mean a fan can’t appreciate the musicianship of an artist like Keith Urban.
Sure, the old ‘three chords and the truth’ line may have been passed by a more polished, rock-inspired sound but where else would we hear a song like “Moments” from Emerson Drive or “Stay” from Sugarland? That’s right, you wouldn’t. Both acts have been considered ‘pop’ by traditional country music fans over the years but if you listen to the songs, there’s no way they’d have worked as pop songs. Each artist is country. It may not be your Dad’s or Grandmother’s country but it’s still country.
Traditional country is also country music to me. I like a lot of the traditional songs and don’t mind that many of them talk about the boozin’ and losin’ parts of life. Some of these great recent artists (for example, Moot Davis,) deserve just as much of a chance at country radio as Emerson Drive and Sugarland have. But, perhaps it’s best that these artists aren’t on radio anyway. Being on radio would make them mainstream and while some would argue that an artist like Davis wouldn’t sell out, he’d be pressured by his label to do just that. They’d want him to record some ‘outside’ material or songs ‘chosen’ for him and then, invariably, that’d be the song released to radio.
People can argue about what is right or wrong with country music these days but it’s just fine to me. I like that ‘indie’ artists are allowed the freedom to record what they want to record. I like that there are many branches on the country music tree. I even like that country incorporates the best of what every other genre has into its own collective. That’s country music to me. It’s a wide-open genre that includes pop, rock, and even rap (Cowboy Troy among others) artists. It’s a genre that has more radio stations than any other genre. Country music to me is pure, honest, from the heart stuff. Is there ‘fluff’ and ‘crap’ in country music? Yes. But every genre has their own share of such things.
Country music to me is a genre of music that I fell in love with. It’s my first, true love. It’ll never cheat on me and I’ll never see it as something that won’t be a constant in my life. Even as I get older and there comes the time when I don’t understand much about the world, these songs will continue to comfort me in the same way that the ‘standards’ continue to comfort my grandparents. Hell, my grandpa and I often jokingly use “16 Tons” to describe our mood to life. Country music transcends time, classes, countries and races. It may just be the purest American form of music (even if it’s rooted in Irish music).
So what is country music to me?
What about you?