Why is a Cat Like a Sidewalk?

OK, there’s a joke that runs something like this:

Q: If a hen and a half can lay an egg and a half in a day and a half, why is a cat like a sidewalk?
A: Because neither one of them can play the piano, of course.

In other words, life is often a scintillating series of surreal non sequiturs, and to the untrained, or unobservant eye, can seem to be nothing more than random, chaotic events.

Which brings me to my point of the day:

If you have never lived in the country, or have some actual genealogical ties to rural America, or at a minimum lived in proximity to the large masses of flyover country that border upon rural America, how authentic is your country music? If you don’t know at least one farmer, let’s say, or cowboy or rancher or sharecropper or cross-country truck driver or redneck-hillbilly-cracker-coonass-mudbug-hick, and you’re not or haven’t ever been one of the previous, how authentic can your expression of traditional rural music be?

It’s one thing to exploit the milieu of a musical form, either in novelty or parody or insult. And it’s another to pay tribute to a musical form that speaks to your heart or mind. To me, the majority of Americana artists out there today, particularly those who are considered alt.country, fall into one of these two camps. They’ve never seen a cow, or been beyond the Holland Tunnel, or traveled outside of a comfortable cellphone service area. Like today’s punks, who can buy suits off the shelf on Melrose Avenue that have been ripped apart and safety pinned back together, they may buy clothes at Walmart or thrift stores but it’s not because they HAVE to. It’s because they are trying to portray a certain kind of image — the kind that Old Navy with it’s brand new “trucker” hats and Hot Topic with its pressed and freshly embossed Clash t-shirts — an image that is not who THEY are. It’s somebody else’s dream (or considering the plight of the average farmer/truck driver, somebody else’s nightmare). The truth is this: nobody who HAS to work in a shirt with their name on it really WANTS that kind of job. It’s not cool to be covered in grease, or coal black, or road dust, or chicken feathers or cowshit. It’s not cool to be looked down on by the vulture doctors and lawyers who infest small towns and use up three quarters of the phone book preying on their aging, gullible and high-risk-for-accident neighbors. It’s not cool to speak with a drawl on a visit to New York and immediately be thought a moron or retarded, even though your IQ may be at least 20 points higher than the fast-talking, sharp-dressed go-getter who shoved their way in front of you in line at Starbucks.

As I’ve said before, part of the problem is that country music CANNOT be country music and have national significance. It is regional. Cajun music, while perhaps appreciated in Maine, is of both greater import and viriliity in Louisiana. What plays in Mecklenburg shouldn’t be the same as what plays in Bakersfield, unless somebody from one is on tour in the other. Not to say that there shouldn’t be cross-pollenization, or that one style can’t learn from another. But what should be most important to country music fans should be LOCAL music first. And live music, at that.

It’s about interpretation, filtered through experience, tempered by environment, forged by connection.

Or it ain’t country music. It’s, to paraphrase Johnny Cash, Nashville trying to sell records to folks who buy cowboy boots in New York City.

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