My Complicated Relationship with Country Music

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Country music: Do I love it? Do I hate it? Well, as it turns out, I feel a whole range of emotions about the genre and it would be impossible to give a definitive answer. To start, there’s not a whole lot I can relate to. I don’t fish, I don’t hunt, I don’t drink to mask my emotional pain, and I have never owned a truck. But what is it that makes me crave country music when I’m rolling around on a warm summer day in my 2004 Toyota Solara? And why does my attitude towards country music vary so much? Sometimes there’s nothing better, but other times there’s nothing worse.

I’ve figured out that it comes down to two things:

  1. What season is it? In the summer, country music is pretty much all I listen to. When the temperature hits 60 degrees and there’s even a hint of summer in the air, I begin to scour through hours upon hours of songs to create the perfect Spotify playlist. During the warmer months, country music reminds me of all the things I have to look forward to: Going to the beach, drinking margaritas, boating, driving my truck on a dirt backroad (just kidding), etc. But during the colder months, I just can’t stand it. And my attitude towards country music becomes as bitter as the harsh winds of winter. The point is this: No country artist makes songs about scraping ice off your windshield, shoveling snow, and slipping in your driveway. There’s a good reason for that: It sucks.

2. The lyrics. Like every genre, country music has its fair share of both good and bad songs. But I’ve found that unlike any other genre, when a country song is bad, it’s REALLY bad. There are tons of great ones out there, but some are just plain stupid.

Last week, I tuned into the annual Country Music Awards. It confirmed all of my feelings discussed in the above paragraphs. There were plenty of great performances, but one of them made me say: “Wow. This is just awful.” That song was Whiskey Glasses by Morgan Wallen. In the song, he describes how his girlfriend left him (typical country plot) and how he’ll need to drink an excessive amount of whiskey to make it through the rest of his days. No healing, no resilience. Just whiskey. Good job, Morgan.

I’ma need some whiskey glasses
‘Cause I don’t wanna see the truth
She’s probably making out on the couch right now
With someone new
Yeah, I’ma need some whiskey glasses
If I’m gonna make it through
If I’ma be single
I’ma need a double shot of that heartbreak proof
And see the world through whiskey glasses

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Morgan needs to pick up a hobby other than pounding shots of whiskey. Go crochet a blanket or something.

Anyways, that’s the kind of dilemma I often face with country music. And as I watched the rest of the CMAs, hearing who won Best Artist and various other awards, I wondered what kind of superlatives I would give out to country songs I’ve heard through the years. Here are a few that I came up with:

Stupid During The Winter, Fun During The Summer
Song: Pontoon     Artist: Little Big Town

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I can’t think of a song where I feel more conflicted. During the summer, I can close my eyes and picture a lovely day on a pontoon boat. The song takes you on a journey through the whole process: You back your boat into the water, swim, barbeque, and drink beer.

Reach your hand down into the cooler
Don’t drink it if the mountains aren’t blue
Try to keep it steady as you recline on your black inner tube

Though I don’t drink beer myself, this lyric provides beautiful summer day imagery that makes even a beer as nasty as Coors Light sound delicious. However, the line:

Out here in the open. Mmmmmm… Motorboatin’ sounds like nails repeatedly sliding down a chalkboard if I try listening to it in January. Am I just angry that it’s winter? Or do I romanticize a poorly written song during the summer? I may never come to a conclusion. All I know is that I’ll be singing along again once May comes around.

Most Likely To Make Me Bang My Head Off Of A Wall In Frustration
Song: Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound      Artist: Hank Williams Jr.

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I’ve got a good woman at home
Who thinks I do no wrong
But sometimes, Lord, she just ain’t always around
And you know that’s when I fall
Now I can’t help myself at all
And I get whiskey bent and hell bound

Poor Hank. His wife sounds like a lovely lady, but sometimes she’s not there. And when she’s not, it’s a perfect time to cheat on her. When he’s had enough to drink, he heads home with another woman:

Sure enough about closin’ time
About stoned out of my mind
And I end up with some honky tonk special I found
Just as sure as the mornin’ sun comes
Thinking of my sweet girl at home
And I need to get whiskey bent and hell bound

Following the revelation that he’s cheated on his wife because he drank too much whiskey, he starts to feel bad and drinks more whiskey. What a vicious cycle. The solution just seems so obvious: Don’t cheat on your wife. He could have avoided quite a bit of pain that way. But then again, making the smart decision wouldn’t have resulted in a classic country tune.

Most Gut-Wrenchingly Painful
Song: The Grand Tour   Artist: George Jones

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George Jones, for you young folks who may not know him already, is an award-winning artist who has performed some of the most influential country songs of all time. Other than his unique voice, he was also known for songs that really tugged on the heartstrings. One of which is called The Grand Tour.

In this song, Jones takes listeners on a grand tour of a “lonely house that once was home, sweet home.” That is, until his wife left him and shattered his heart into a million tiny pieces. Throughout the tour of his house, Jones describes items and rooms that make him think of his wife:

Over there sits the chair
Where she’d bring the paper to me
And sit down on my knee
And whisper, “Oh, I love you”
But now she’s gone forever
And this old house will never
Be the same
Without the love that we once knew

Straight ahead, that’s the bed
Where we lay in love together
And Lord knows we had a good thing going here
See her picture on the table
Don’t it look like she’d be able
Just to touch me and say, “Good morning, dear”

George longs for her loving embrace and her kind words that used to fill this empty house with joy. But now he knows he will never feel this kind of love again and that she’s gone forever. Can it get much worse than that? Oh yes, it can!

There’s her rings, all her things
And her clothes are in the closet
Like she left them
When she tore my world apart
As you leave, you’ll see the nursery
Oh, she left me without mercy
Taking nothing but our baby and my heart

It appears that Jones would never see her or their child again, but would forever be surrounded by constant, painful reminders that she left him all alone.

I can’t listen to this song often. It’s beautifully written, but it’s certainly not a feel good tune. It forces listeners to provide the ultimate display of empathy and feel every ounce of his gut-wrenching pain. Sometimes I feel his sorrow so deeply that I need to double check to make sure my girlfriend didn’t pack her things and leave me.

My relationship with country music is complicated. There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. The songs that make me sing at the top of my lungs and the songs that make me turn the radio off in disgust. Regardless, I know that I’m about one month away from my country music hiatus. I’ll pick up right where I left off once summer returns. And I’ll be looking forward to that day.

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