Tuesday, April 07, 2015

COLUMN: Country Music

Forgive me, Quad Cities. I'm not really myself at the moment. Something happened the other night that's left me deeply unsettled and emotionally scarred.

It was a rare Saturday night off, so I spent it like so many others, playing at a charity trivia night event. If you're even just an occasional trivia player, you probably know (and probably hate) the one team that shows up at nearly every event and usually stomps all over the competition. Well, those ragtag trivia nerds are my friends, and quite often I get recruited to tag along as their go-to expert on inane useless pop culture knowledge.

On this night, there was a familiar music category where a short snippet of a song was played, and then teams had to identify each song by both artist and title. Over the course of the night, I was correctly able to name all ten of the songs -- and it's left me a broken shell of a man. Was it because I was struck with the sudden realization that so much of my life and brainpower has been wasted over the years in pursuit of meaningless pop culture? Nope, that's something I've come to terms with long, long ago. No, the truly disturbing part is that three of those songs I was correctly able to identify... were country tunes.

This is clearly unacceptable.

There's few things in life I take pride in, and my complete and total ignorance of country music is one of them. I don't want to know about country music and I certainly don't want to listen to country music. In my world, country music doesn't exist at all.

I call myself a music nerd, but some people get it twisted and call me a music snob instead. Frankly, I don't get what they're on about. It's not my fault if the music I listen to happens to be awesome and the music everybody else listens to happens to be God-awful. It doesn't bother me in the slightest. Your horrible musical tastes are entirely your prerogative.

The truth is, I'm really not THAT much of a music snob. I've spent almost thirty years moonlighting as a DJ at clubs and parties around the area. I've got a pretty high tolerance for most kinds of music. The random shuffle of my iPod routinely drives my friends batty, because it'll jump willy-nilly from avant-garde experimental noise-pop to Taylor Swift to Jay-Z to Neil Diamond. That's just how I roll.

But there's no place on my iPod for country music. I accept that different people like different kinds of music. But I'm also fairly certain that, given adequate resources, I could scientifically and mathematically prove the awfulness of country music. I'm still working on the formula, but the principle is based on a loose equation involving the number of times a song references a pickup truck multiplied by the singer's fondness for mud and/or dirt divided by the number of times the word girl is pronounced "gurl."

But for the past couple years, I've been DJing at a bar that requires me to occasionally sprinkle a few country songs into the mix. No problem, I'm a professional. I can handle this. But here's the thing about these modern country songs: they're awful, but they're also awfully catchy -- and now some of these tunes have had the gall to follow me home from the club and get stuck in my head. I fear they may soon be taking over. If anyone sees me out buying a pair of boots, please dispose of me Old-Yeller-style at your earliest convenience.

Years ago, I wouldn't have dreamt of playing country music at a DJ gig. It just didn't happen. In my day, you had to pick musical sides as part of your cultural identity. In my high school, you either listened to the radio, or you listened to metal, or you were one of the weirdos like me who found solace in outcast bands like Depeche Mode and The Cure and The Smiths. But even in the small town that I grew up in, I didn't know a single kid who listened to country. That was just the music your parents liked and you had to put up with on car trips. I remember on more than one occasion getting on my high school soapbox and telling people that country music would die out in a generation because no one our age listened to it.

But then it all changed. First Garth Brooks came out of nowhere like a cowboy Springsteen, filling arenas and flying around on wires and proving you could be country AND cool. (Well, kinda.) Then came the line dances and CMTV and American Idol and just like that, country stars started fighting it out with rappers for the upper eschelon of the Top 40 chart. Nowadays, you've got Luke Bryan and Florida-Georgia Line covering hip-hop songs in concert and giving shout-outs to Drake and T-Pain in their songs. They haven't just crossed over, they built a multi-lane bridge right over the chasm.

So what is it about this twangy stuff that people like, anyways? I know a few country fans here at work, so I asked them. And universally, the response was the same: "Country music tells a story." I like a good story, too, so I started listening to the lyrics of these songs I was playing at the club. Sure enough, there's a story to be told. Of my five most requested country songs over the past couple of years, #1 is about drinking. #2 is about drinking during the day. #3 is about drinking on a boat. #4 is about drinking on a plane. And the fifth one, sort of inexplicably, is about chicken-fried steak, but it mentions beer, too, so hey.

"what's that one country song?" a girl requested just last weekend. "You know, the one about trucks and partyin'?"

"All of them," I replied. "They're all about that."

But then I thought about my five most-requested hip-hop songs at the moment. #1 is about butts. #2 is about large butts. #3 is about drinking. #4 is about shaking your butt while drinking. And #5 is about something called uptown funk, which I presume involves both butts and booze. I guess rap's about the same as country, just with fewer trucks and more, umm, tailgates.

Of course, the only thing I really accomplished with my in-depth lyrical analysis is that I can now sing along with all these country songs, as I discovered while absent-mindedly crooning along to "Drunk on a Plane" at Hy-Vee the other day, a move that could've single-handedly destroyed my street cred had anyone noticed. Good thing I didn't just own up to it in a widely-distributed newspaper column.

So I guess that's it, then. I'd better accept that country music's here to stay, and that I might even (shudder) LIKE some of it. If anybody asks, though, I'm simply expanding my knowledge base so I can crush all you people at trivia.

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