Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Like a coon dog basking in the sunshine


I have a confession to make: I've been listening to quite a bit of country music lately. If you'd told me a year ago that moving back to North Carolina would bring out my inner Johnny Cash, I would've laughed, or at least smirked a little. But here we are.

Unlike a lot of my Native Tar Heel friends, I don't come from a family of country music fans. My family was a unique blend of American Bandstand, Soul Train and The Lawrence Welk Show. We listened to Elvis, The Supremes, and Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. OK, so there was the weekly dose of Hee Haw - but that was because we only got one channel way out there in the country back during the prehistoric (pre-cable TV) times. The only reason I can still sing most of the lines to "Gloom, Despair, and Agony On Me" is by default.

Uncool. That's exactly the word that came into my head when I thought about country music. Well, all right, there were a few exceptions from back in the day, other than The Man in Black. Jerry Reed played a mean guitar, and he was the cute little truck driver in Smokey and The Bandit, one of my favorite movies from 1977. (NOTE: I was very young then and had not yet developed much taste in cinema.) And Crystal Gayle. My sister and I thought she was pretty cool, and her hair was the longest we'd ever seen . . . on a human.

In the early 1990s, my friend Alice was into country music, and she introduced me to some of her favorites: Garth Brooks and Wynonna Judd. I still think Garth's No Fences was an excellent album, and Wynonna is certainly a musical force to be reckoned with. Shania Twain arrived on my scene in the late 90s, and even now I occasionally listen to Come On Over (I prefer the international version). It seems to me that all three of these artists sort of changed country music. I guess this is what they call Contemporary Country. Fast forward to the summer of 2008, when I was living in Vienna. On a day when I was feeling a little homesick, I heard Sugarland for the very first time, and I've been a fan ever since. Last year, I discovered Lady Antebellum, and this year, The Band Perry.

We listen to the radio at the farm these days, partially because we don't have a TV in the farmhouse, but also because my Mom says that music keeps the Esses away (that's a whole 'nuther blog entry). There's not a lot of listening variety on the airwaves there. Let's see. There's the gospel channel, whose volume is mysteriously much higher than other stations. There's an old school hip-hop station that plays stuff I danced to in high school ("Ho-tel Mo-tel Holiday INN!") And there's a station that plays classic rock except from 11-12 on Sundays, when they broadcast a local church service. You can go from Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" to a choir singing "Just A Little Talk With Jesus" in a matter of nanoseconds.

But there's no shortage of country music stations. So I'm listening.
One of the things I'm starting to appreciate about country music is its ability to tell stories. Some of the stories are downright get-the-hankies-out-tear-jerking. These are the songs about breaking up, cheating, being cheated on, getting revenge, getting cancer, and your grandpa/grandma/best friend/best dog dying. I try not to cry, but sometimes I just can't help it. It's like some sort of Red State emotional release. But country music makes me laugh a lot, too. And that may be the thing I find most appealing about it. I love all the references to moonshine, grits, and coon dogs (the latter is mentioned in today's video, "You Lie" by The Band Perry -- a song that could easily be used to teach the concept of the simile in English language classes).

The truth is, I like music of all kinds. And I'm just as likely to be listening to Rachmaninoff on my iPod at work, or European disco music when I'm driving my car . . . in the city. But if I want to, I'm going to get my country groove on.

Dang it.