March 10, 2012

Upbeat and Conventional

Will Wilkinson's car radio quite obviously plays a different sort of country music than my record player does. Granted, contemporary country music overall is a devolved, shallow, shadow of its former self, like all contemporary music -- and culture in general as well. (We live in a great age of deculturation, in which I am as complicit as anyone, despite my mostly downbeat and conventional record collection.) The sentimentality Will is patting on its dear little head runs through the entire "corpus," so to speak, and it's true that it can be cloying and laughable: hence the term. But in the hands of a great writer and singer? There's nothing to beat it, nothing whatsoever in this world, according to me:

Granted, they don't write 'em like that anymore, but even though the charts have changed a bit, you can't say this song is alien to the culture being crudely dissected here.

The attempt to correlate music and culture with quantified personality types and in turn to the crude liberal/conservative culture war Venn diagram seems, like the Manichean schema itself, like mostly hogwash to me. Self-defining "liberals" can be quite conservative in the sense of clinging like grim death to their own status quo, and it is nothing but self-flattery to term this rigid devotion to a cultural aesthetic of slightly more recent vintage as "openness to new ideas." Of course, the culture war is a real thing, God help us, and the "rednecks" whose folkways are celebrated in the entertainment genre in question, obviously, tend to live in the "red states" and the red parts of the states otherwise occupied by open-minded urban sophisticates who hate their guts and everything their guts stand for.

Now, despite a (possibly related) contrarian impulse in all things, I'm one of these wonderfully open-minded blue state urban living guys. I just am. And though I'm sure I'm "low openness" and otherwise deficient in all sorts of ways, I'm quite confident that that's not why I'm a fan of country music. I love it because I like listening to the records, which is surely a better yardstick to use than, say, my track record in the categories: "exotic travel, hallucinogenic ecstasy, sexual experimentation, or challenging aesthetic experience." I like it because of the good, coherent writing (a quality found much less often in other pop music, especially these days) and because sometimes the songs are powerful enough that they make me cry.

Posted by Dr. Frank at March 10, 2012 08:08 PM