For most of my life, I have fought country music, kicking and screaming.
I grew up in a suburb of Birmingham near my paternal grandparents. Deeply in love for their 50+ years together, they would notoriously sing old country songs to each other as they went about their day. Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells... they were all a part of my extended family's soundtrack—sung in either of my grandparents' voices. As the 70s and 80s merged together, Hee Haw and (the band) Alabama became staples of our life.
As I started to experiment with my own musical tastes—breaking away from my parents' influence of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan and Billy Joel—I realized there was much more to music than what my mom and dad played in the car or stacked on the turntable at home. By the time I got into high school, I was solidly entrenched in the Violent Femmes and the Doors and my beloved Concrete Blonde.
But being in the South, country music was everywhere. For years it seemed to be the go-to for rednecks and hicks; there was nothing redeeming in that genre as far as I was concerned. Years later I would see the brilliance of Johnny Cash and Lyle Lovett and early Dolly Parton. For the most part, though, modern country was just irritating.
As I so often do with new acquaintances, I asked Bounder what his favorite music was, just moments into our first real conversation.
"Class rock," he answered. "I love AC/DC. Nineties alternative. Lately I've been listening to a lot of country, though."
For the same reason I loathe most pop music, I hate the simplicity of most country music. I know there are notable exceptions, but the majority of it seems guileless and naive. There's nothing special or complex lurking behind the twang and it usually just grates on my damn nerves.
Like me, Bounder is a hopeless romantic, and there's a soundtrack to his own life. This is, after all, the man who introduced me to the Clarks, whom I'd somehow never heard and instantly loved. In fact, within days of our initial meeting, I created what would become the first of the Bounder playlists on Spotify.
Fast forward to a month ago, when he and I decided to see each other again. We started playing a game of I'll-play-you-mine-if-you-play-me-yours, in which we would play each other some stupidly appropriate song. He tried for a while to stick to songs I would probably like. The more esoteric I became, though, the more likely he was to play some twanging track while I grimaced and tried to downplay its poignancy.
There is nothing like a man who will dance with you and sing to you, off-key as hell, in the middle of the night on the deck. Even if it's a country song.
A couple of weeks ago, I told the boys I had plans for a concert in October.
"It's at the Fox," I said. "It's a country show."
My 12-year-old stared at me. "Who are you, and what have you done with my mother?"
Not only that, I added two country stations to the FM2 presets on my car radio. Supposedly it was so that Bounder could find the stations easily when he was in my car. In reality I find myself hitting those buttons way more often than I intend.
Last week, I realized I was driving my brother's truck while singing Blake Shelton's "Boys 'Round Here", a.k.a. the chew-tobacco-chew-tobacco-chew-tobacco-spit song.
I find myself combing through country songs now, trying to find a new one that says something to me. I'm also going back to rock and indie and alternative artists with their roots in country—Chris Isaak, the Mynabirds, Amy Stroup. There is something solid in those roots, something that speaks to the basics of emotion that I'd rather hear with a twang than with a 120-beats-per-minute synth drum.
But there is sometimes this
simplicity that just fits, that
describes a moment or a feeling in a direct way that the rock and alternative I
so love can never quite handle. Hunter
Hayes will never replace Greg Dulli,
and Jake Owen comes nowhere close to doing for me what the Gracious Few or LIVE
can... but I will be seeing him in October in Atlanta no matter what. With Bounder.
To hear (godIcan'tbelieveI'msayingthis)
I may be getting sappy, but I'm totally still oozing glitter.