First, the confession: I know it's completely un-cool to admit you actually like TOP 40 music of any kind--it marks you as culturally lazy, not adventurous enough. If you love TOP 40, you probably think instant mashed potatoes is real food, right? My thing, though, has always been lyrics and I don't care where I find them. I'm not against listening to an artist I've never heard of before in a genre I think was made up last week (I mean I actually saw "prog-funk" and "literary Scottish indie-rock chamber music" in Rolling Stone reviews) and some of my favorite songs have come to me this way. But I don't listen to anything for technically superior chord progressions and I wouldn't know what a riff was if it bit me hard on the butt. I'm a word geek and it's all about words to me--whether I find them in Eminem's latest or a 1979 Barbara Mandrell tune that was never released as a single.
Okay so now I've marked myself as an un-cool person who doesn't get out much and actually doesn't mind instant mashed potatoes in a pinch so I might as well go the rest of the way and admit that not only do I like Top 40 music, but I like country music as well. There's all sorts of wit and wisdom buried in all that twang.*
It was while listening to that twang that I heard the new Trace Adkins song "Arlington" this past weekend. It is a beautiful song that under the right circumstances may have moved me to tears or at least given me a killer bout of goose bumps. But then there was this line: "There's a big white house sits on a hill just up the road/The man inside, he cried the day they brought me home." I reflexively shouted, "Yeah right!" (Yeah, along with the instant mashed potato thing, I talk to the radio. The Internet's just full of freaks, isn't it?) I get the purpose of the song--and I'm all for supporting the troops, honoring their sacrifices, but I'm not sure this is the best way of doing that.
This is one area where country music consistently lets me down--the so-called "patriotic" songs. The two that make me literally grit my teeth are Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" and Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten?" (No, I'm not linking to them. Isn't that petty?) They're angry songs, written in reaction to the attacks of 9/11. The events of 9/11 were tragic, horrifying, cowardly and a thousand other things, but it doesn't honor the victims, their families or the troops now in danger to reduce the complex political, socio-economic, and religious issues that led to those attacks to an US vs. THEM mentality.
I was raised in a career military family. My father was voluntarily serving in Vietnam when I was born. After his tour of duty was done there, he chose to go to Korea, not once but twice, when he could've gotten a Stateside assignment. I'm no stranger to patriotism, to sacrifice in the name of your country. But shouldn't patriotism be about more than unquestioning loyalty to the current administration? Shouldn't it be about more than revenge? Shouldn't it be about more than being the biggest bully on the block? Doesn't it stand to reason that a longer-range view is in our nation's best interest?
It's hard enough to find that viewpoint in newspaper columns and television commentary, let alone in our government, I'm not sure why I would expect country musicians to pick up that slack. There was one post-9/11 song that did, though--Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)." He caught it all--the shock, the devastation, and, yes, even the anger--in words. Made me proud to be an American.
*Examples of twang, wit and wisdom: JoDee Messina's "My Give A Damn's Busted"; Tim McGraw's "Do You Want Fries With That?"; and Bobby Pinson's "Don't Ask Me How I Know."