Country artists are rockin’ the juke box instead of playing country music

I have been reminded, yet again, why I don’t listen to today’s country music—because it isn’t country music.

What passes for country music today is…oh, hell, I don’t know what it is.

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.

The Country Music Association Awards singalong has become a total misnomer. More accurate would be a title something along these lines: The Anti-Merle, Anti-Waylon, Anti-Willie, Anti-Patsy, Anti-Dolly, Anti-Emmylou Show.

I mean, what I watched from Nashville on Wednesday night was country like Faith Hill’s right leg is short and stubby. (If you observed Faith’s right stem while she sang a duet with hubby Tim McGraw you’ll know what I mean. If not, be advised that Faith’s stems are noticeably unshort and unstubby.)

George Strait and Alan Jackson had it right when they sang Death On Music Row at the CMAs at the back end of the 20th century: Someone killed country music/cut out its heart and soul/they got away with murder/down on Music Row.

The chorus of that Larry Cordle/Larry Shell-written song goes like this:

For the steel guitars no longer cry and the fiddles barely play
But drums and rock ‘n’ roll guitars are mixed up in your face
Old Hank wouldn’t have a chance on today’s radio
Since they committed murder down on Music Row.

Once upon a time, country music was three chords and the truth. It was about the song. Now it’s…again, I don’t know what the hell it is, but apparently few folks can sing these days without distracting, blinding strobe lights, smoke and the volume cranked up so high that you can’t hear, or understand, the lyrics.

A lot of them look country, but they don’t do country.

Miranda Lambert looks country. Does it, too. Chris Stapleton looks country. Does it, too. Any coincidence that they were saluted as female and male vocalists of the year?

Miranda Lambert: A girl and her guitar.

I like Lambert. A lot. She can get after it like a hell-ya girl, but she doesn’t need gizmos and gadgets. She can stand on stage with nothing more than her acoustic guitar, her voice and her pain and deliver pure country music. She did the girl-and-her-guitar thing earlier this year with Tin Man at the Academy of Country Music awards. She was spellbinding. On Wednesday in Nashville, she genuflected in the direction of traditional country music with To Learn Her. This time she had a backing band and the performance included—wait for it—a pedal steel solo. The only one I heard in three hours. Imagine that. Pedal steel in a country song. What a concept. Miranda was Patsy, Loretta, Dolly, Emmylou, Tammy and Reba in a petite, powerful package.

What Miranda Lambert did is what country music is supposed to look and sound like.

It’s supposed to look and sound like what Little Big Town (with Jimmy Webb on keyboards) did with the Glen Campbell classic Wichita Lineman. Beautiful, four-part harmonies. It’s supposed to be what the Brothers Osborne did with Tulsa Time (a tribute to the late troubadour Don Williams). It’s supposed to look and sound like what newly minted Hall of Famer Alan Jackson did with Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.

Instead, we get too many like Luke Bryan, a terrible singer singing a terrible song (Light It Up).

I thought it fitting that Jackson closed the show with Don’t Rock the Jukebox, because that tune pretty much sums up my sentiments about today’s country music:

Don’t rock the jukebox
I wanna hear George Jones
My heart ain’t ready
for the Rolling Stones
I don’t feel like rockin’
Since my baby’s gone
So don’t rock the jukebox
Play me a country song.

Sadly, too many of today’s performers can’t, or won’t, play country music.

Hey, look me over, but what you see might not be what you get

I’m a baby boomer. When the 1960s came along, the adults judged us by our threads and the way we wore our hair. If a high school kid slicked his hair back with half a tube of Brylcreem, wore pointy, black shoes, tight pants, talked saucy and drove an old beater, he was a “good-for-nothing punk.”

beautiful eyes

By patti dawn swansson

We are in no position to judge another, yet we constantly do so. We’re all guilty of it, so there’s no point in submitting a denial.

It’s like every day is Judgement Day. We make a judgement based soley on the way one is dressed. On the many tattoos one has on his body. On multi-colored, spiked hair. On the piercings in the nose, lips and tongue. On the young person wearing a hoodie. On the woman flaunting her flesh.

We acknowledge that we are wrong to do so, yet we do so, nonetheless.

I’m a baby boomer. When the 1960s came along, the adults judged us by our threads and the way we wore our hair. If a high school kid slicked his hair back with half a tube of Brylcreem, wore pointy, black shoes, tight pants, talked saucy and drove an old beater, he was a “good-for-nothing punk.” The guy who who tied his long, shaggy hair back in a ponytail, wore loose-fitting clothing and beads was “a hippie who needs to get a job.” The girl with a daisy in her hair and a colorful frock had to be a ditzy Flower Child.

Many of those kids went on to become world leaders, spiritual leaders, giants of business, brilliant writers, artists, etc., but, back in the day, it was as if we were a threat to civilization based on our looks and the fact we liked to listen to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. It also worked in reverse. The clean-cut kid who dressed like he was going to church often was the rotten apple in the barrel. He was a phony. Like Eddie Haskell on Leave It to Beaver.

A shining example of judging a book by its cover would be beloved Canadian songstress Anne Murray. We all loved “our Annie.” She was the very picture of squeaky clean. She wasn’t a bad girl, but she had a veneer that disguised the fact she was a pot-smoking lass who had an affair with a married man and who sometimes couldn’t handle her liquor. In her biography, All Of Me, Murray tells the tale of sharing a cab in the Bahamas with the great jazz trumpeter Herb Alpert. She was sitting on his lap and so drunk that she actually peed on him. Yet we still love “our Annie.” And why not?

I know of someone whose appearance earned him an eviction from a shop in a trendy section of town with bistros and boutiques filled with funky items and funky people. He had just left a counselling session and decided to walk across the street to a small women’s clothing store to purchase a gift for his mother. It was, after all, Mother’s Day at the end of the week. A slim man, he was adorned in a glitzy, gold top, tight slacks, flat shoes and his hair was lengthy and well maintained. He looked quite feminine. He asked the sales clerk about a particular item, a white lace top.

“You get out of here!” the clerk shrieked. “We don’t want your kind in here!”

This man was a local musician, but she had taken him for some kind of pervert because of his appearance.

Two days later, that same man put on a pair of ratty, old jeans, a denim jacket, a pair of cowboy boots and had his long locks tucked under a baseball cap. He entered that same shop and was greeted warmly by that same clerk. He again inquired about that same white, lace top and the smiling clerk advised him that yes, indeed, it was a one-size-fits-all garment.

“Hey,” she said, “I recognize you. You’re the drummer in that jazz band.”

“That would be me,” he confirmed.

“Do you think you could get me some tickets to a show?”

“I’ll see what I can do. Incidentlly, do you remember kicking someone out of your shop the other day?”

“Yes. He was a creep who wanted to buy women’s clothing. But how did you know about that? I didn’t see you in the store.”

“I’m that creep.”

He lifted his ball cap and let his strawberry blonde hair fall to his shoulders. He then walked out of the shop without making a purchase.

It is my experience that what you see is not what you get with most people who look “different.”

Rather than take the time to engage in conversation, we genuflect to societal stereotypes and assume the fellow in the tattered clothing is an out-of-work bum. A hobo, if you will. Well, it’s true that sometimes a homeless person does, indeed, look like society’s definition of a homeless person. Sometimes the guy who matches society’s definition of a biker—long, scraggy beard, black leather duds and a gruff, outlaw demeanor—is a biker. Other times, not so much.

I know a biker “type” who works in a bank. I know hobo “types” who are musicians. I know a fellow who looks like he sleeps on the street every night, but he’s a successful journalist.

We are not the judge and jury of another’s life or lifestyle, so why must we insist on playing that role?

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