Friday, June 4, 2021

Country After Country Wasn't Cool

Welcome to a Secret Subject Swap. This month 5 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts. 

My “Secret Subject” is:

Give us a Ted Talk on any subject that matters to you.

It was submitted by:

This is possibly putting us in dangerous territory. Do I talk about the prison industrial complex? Imperialism? Anarchism? Do we get to hear yer again about my chronic illness? Systemic fatphobia? CIA operations in south America? The history of policing and what abolishing the police really means? How I found church while being an atheist (still am one)? 

The options for me to me able to talk for 15 minutes about any one subject are almost infinite. I make it a mission in my life to constantly be learning and working toward a better version of myself. I'm interested in all that life can offer me to learn about.

But I reckon what I'll talk about today is the very distinct split in today's country music genre and why it matters.

First, if you said "ew" or have ever said "I listen to anything but country" please understand I have been there, seen the light, and am currently a born again country fan. It's a genre I enjoyed quite a bit in my younger days before the ugliness of trauma and teenage angst pulled me in a different direction. But that was also pre-9/11 when things were a bit different. Country had a split before 2001 of course with Patsy Cline and her pop country Nashville sound, but the kind of country that came out after the falling of the towers--starting really with Toby Keith's 'classic' Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue-- sort of pigeonholed itself as the soundtrack for toxic masculinity and blind patriotism with sides of sexism, hypocrisy, and bad pseudo rapping.

The biggest named artists of the time and even now tapped into the fear that Americans collectively felt at the time and exploited it. Working class struggle music rooted in the country blues of Southern Black folks turned into the genre of racists and ignorance and toxic rage. Outlaws, rednecks, and hillbillies who ran shine and lived mostly outside of the law lost country to rich assholes in huge trucks who'd never worked a hard day in their lives and had even more hangups than horse power. The entire genre suffered.

I gave up on it entirely resorting to mocking and pretending to hate everything I'd grown up loving, and a lot of artists who loved the sounds but hated the association took to calling themselves Indie and Americana splitting things even further with very little room for redemption. There certainly wasn't room at the time for any musicians of the genre to dissent from the hyper-patriotic popular opinion of ass kicking tough guys taking our country back and sexually harassing women about tractors they would never actually own. The Chicks (formerly known as The Dixie chicks) made their statements against Bush Jr and the Iraq War even while having been one of the most popular groups in country at the time 9/11 happened and still managed to completely obliterate their careers. Radio stations and record labels and agents attempted to wipe them off the map.

Until recently...

And that return, no matter how little a fan I am of their catalogue, is a sign of the change that's been happening underneath the surface. Country, when you look behind doors and under the piles of Trump flags, has been evolving. Or de-evolving? It's kind of hard to say actually. So much of what I know and love now has an old classic country feel with yodels and whistles and camp and outlawin' but it's being made today. It's questioning the narrative, subverting the stereotypes, and making country a whole lot more lavender (Lavender Country was the first gay country band in the 70s). These artists call out systems of oppression or make a point of being the supposed odd duck out. Black women, queer women, drag queens, anarchists, gay men, men of color... Country is refusing to be pigeonholed any longer.

I heard Sturgill Simpson for the first time in 2013 right after he took his career solo. I would have been listening to Whitey Morgan and the 78s at the time for him to come up in the algorithm, and they're an outlaw kind of band and a good listen--their cover of I'm on Fire beats Springsteen's original a million times over. But I thought they were an anomaly. Sturgill changed things for me though. Him singing about being able to afford gas and food? Pining for things online he can't afford? Yeah bring it. I could see him, his genuiness, his fight on display in this video. But the sound of it, the fullness, the intensity let me know I was on a journey to find everything I could that would make me sing along that loud that sounded like the country I grew up listening to with my dad and not country trying too hard to be everything else wrapped in a big toxic masculinity bow.

I found messages about leftist politics, anti racism work, call-outs of oppressive systems, queer heartache normalized like in any other song instead of othered, coping with the world we live in, unionizing, community building, being Black in a stereotyped genre, working class struggle, shitty jobs that ruin you for little return... I found old music remade with the soul of a person living in late stage capitalism. I found a part of myself I had been missing that I didn't even know I missed until that steel guitar soothed my soul.

Country came to define a group of people whose identity is wrapped up in traditional values while singing about mostly none of those values. It went from running from the law to Back the Blue. The tough guy machismo won out for a time, but that ain't country anymore. It doesn't have to be. It certainly isn't in the spaces I frequent.

We're taking back redneck to its original union fighting meaning. We're making country and rural folk heard. And we're letting you know we been here this whole time too riding dirt roads, making cornbread on Sundays, and fighting for our communities one twanged out lyric after another.

We're winning one playlist at a time, and there ain't no stopping us now.

And as always if ever you need a playlist to help change your own mind, I am but a message away.


Here are links to all the sites now featuring Secret Subject Swap posts. Sit back, grab a cup, and check them all out. See you there:

Baking In A Tornado

Wandering Web Designer

What TF Sarah

Part-time Working Hockey Mom


  1. I'm one of those "listen to anything but country" people. Not sure if you've totally convinced me to give it another try, but it's a start.

  2. I generally don't like country music because it just doesn't do it for me. However, thanks to TikTok, I found this song by Chris Housman called "Blueneck" on iTunes. I think you'd like it.

  3. I like my classic rock and I've noticed lately that my favorite songs tell a story. I guess that makes some kind of sense.