I like to think that my music tastes are fairly eclectic. While something like ¾ of my current rotation consists of 80s rock across various types and genres, the remaining 25% runs the gamut from classical to certain flavours of techno. There’s a little jazz and (don’t tell anyone) a dash of opera, bits of rock and pop from the 60s through current (although less and less beginning in the 90s when I feel most music started to be so over-produced that you had a hard time hearing the individual instruments – that’s started to change in the last few years as the current version of the internet age allows us access to a real breadth of indie music), some folk and a little bit of classic punk.
So what is it about Country music that makes me want to jam chopsticks into my ears and stir them around until the pain stops?
It would be easy to blame my father, who I feel like discovered Country when I was discovering the early stages of what would be Pop for my age group. It might even be partially true, but it doesn’t seem fair to Dad. He didn’t know what he was doing to me when he found a new style of music to explore. But what he was discovering would probably be called Classic Country at this point, stuff from the 60s and 70s with lots of early pick up trucks, dying dogs, down to my last beer, and wife departures. And he was still able to get frustrated at my musical choices as a teenager so I feel like it’s okay for me to not like his at the same time.
The thing is, I don’t see an awful lot of difference between that Country and the stuff being released today. To my internal music grading system, it all sounds the same and it’s all annoying. Stressed Styrofoam in the quiet library of my soul annoying. I’ve been known to refer to Country Music as an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. I’m not the only one who feels that way, but I’m also aware that a lot of people do love it.
I’m just not one of them.
These days, there may be fewer broken trucks and wife departures, but there’s still a lot of drinking, gambling, football. And there’s certainly too much religion. I know where to find all of those things if I want them, and it’s not in my music.
To be fair to the genre, I don’t listen to a lot of it, or any of it, by choice, but I live in an area where it’s frequently inflicted on me when I go out shopping. There are times when it makes me almost run through the grocery store, grabbing things on the way by, barely slowing down as I do. I can fight this by bringing a pair of earbuds with me and covering it up with my personal playlist, but that tends to decrease my awareness of my surroundings in general, which makes me a little uncomfortable.
If I can strip away the actual music and just read the lyrics, sometimes there’s some melancholy nostalgic moments to be found, but doing that sort of defeats the purpose of music, doesn’t it? The lyrics transform to poetry, and that’s a different art. Treating lyrics as poetry doesn’t usually work. Sometimes they’re poetic, but they need the music to get the emotion.
I’ll let you in on a secret, though. There’s exactly one Country song that I don’t mind, though it’s always far better in my memory than it is when I actually listen to it, which is rare. That’s no reflection on the artist because I have to look up who sings it every time I want to know and considering my knowledge of the Country genre, his fans shouldn’t take it as an insult. For me, the song exists in a vacuum, and it’s the sentiment that matters, so I can quote lyric fragments without actually having the song go through my head. See my note on nostalgia, above. It’s about remembering the “best” parts of youth while firmly ensconced in middle age.
I’m 50 years old now.
But the fact that there’s one Country song I can tolerate argues that a genre that’s so long-lived and has so many artists across so much geography should have more out there for me. But I’m not willing to put myself through the exploration phase of things to find any of those other songs.
Looking it up that one song right now, I find it’s by Toby Keith whose name, I’m sorry, I’ll probably forget again not long after I post this. If you like Country music, you probably know it. If you don’t, well, you can decide if you want to search it and listen to it or not.
I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.
Of course, in my head, I always remember the lyric as “I’m not as good as I once was,” which doesn’t really match the aesthetic. And it’s the chorus that matters to me. The individual verses in the song are pretty standard macho fare, drinking and fighting and sex. But that’s me.
In case anyone whom the heart in Country music actually speaks to has any favourites, I’m not looking for suggestions. I’m actually good with having just the one Country song that speaks to me, especially since it really only does so in my memory rather than in the music itself.
Stay safe and be well, everyone.
I ain’t as good as I once was
My how the years have flown
But there was a time, back in my prime
When I could really hold my ownby