Satire: The sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own.
Rock music is for liberals, and Country is for conservatives. We all know that, and it helps us understand why no one we knew listened to Country in the 1970s, but some of our friends started doing so secretly in the 1980s and more overtly in the 1990s every time Billy opened his fly.
The Box Inside
The recent Country Music Awards was one of the dullest shows on record, perhaps because they've retreated from airing their politics after the flap over the Country "Southern Rock Tribute" during the Grammys of 2005. See Jeanne Fury's review or the complete line up if you've forgotten. Thrasher's Wheat--a Neil Young fan's blog--offers a bit of useful history challenging the assumptions that erupted in controversy.
And Inside That Box...
In 2005, Tim McGraw's
Of course, there's plenty of God-talk in "Live Like You Were Dying," in many of the songs perfomed at this year's awards, in the thank you speeches, and so on. God-talk, we all know, is conservative because Jesus (if he were alive today and living in America) would vote for Ron Paul or Mitt Romney. Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics, has another view about God-talk and politics, if not about the ideology of Country music.
A Razor Along the Seam
"Back When" is not so simple. The lines, "Sittin' round the table / Don't happen much anymore," are conservative only in the most generic sense, and could just as well be taken as a veiled reference to Joy Harjo's poem "Perhaps the World Ends Here" as to anything else. I'll leave for another day my discussion of McGraw's first hit, "Indian Outlaw," and what it says about stereotypes and making a travesty of history.
The heart of "Back When" is a celebration of radio that wasn't as broken down by genres and styles as today: "I had my favorite stations / The ones that played them all." Likewise, Lynyrd Skynyrd's allegedly racist song celebrates a mix of styles: "Now muscle shoals has got the swampers / And they’ve been known to pick a song or two." Imagine Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, and GZA on the same station and you get the idea, but for now Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) is the closest we'll get to that.
Looking at Cardboard, and the Cut on my Hand
There are conservatives that think they own Country music to be sure, and some of them, such as Jake Easton, harassed the Dixie Chicks after they had the courage to say something intelligent about Texas patriotism and the invasion of Iraq. The longer Bush stays in office, however, the more often folks that listen to Country say they've always liked the Dixie Chicks.
The Jewel Inside
The roots of Country music go way back: back to a time when Country was indistinguishable from Folk, back to a time when Woody Guthrie was writing songs that everyone in America knows. The Country Music Hall of Fame, the Country Music Awards, and Country music fans everywhere may not yet acknowledge all of their history, but Peter La Chapelle thinks they should, as he argues in his essay "Is Country Music Inherently Conservative?" at the History News Network.
[Postscript 18 December 2007: As a few gentle readers missed the gist of "Conservative Country?" in light of expectations created by the Blog Focus, I've added an epigraph and section headings as a roadmap of sorts.]