Connecticut Yankee with a Country Heart

The missus spent a good 10 years trying to cultivate in me a taste for country music. “Don’t bother,” I would tell her. “That hokum just don’t work on me.”

No one grew up farther away from the country than I did. I mean that in every possible way: mentally, culturally, musically, geographically, metaphorically. I mean it literally. Suburban New Jersey is not country.

It’s fair to say I grew up with an urban orientation. You might call it an urban bias. In fact, I used to imagine that the buildings in my town were all built facing New York City, which was (and is) about 25 miles away. So on my mental map, the country was behind me. In front of me was cool—the city was the place where cool lived. I wanted to go toward it. I wanted cool, not hokum.

But time softens the hardest of hearts, and hokum, it turns out, is in the eye of the beholder. I got married. I had kids. Then I had a few more kids. The romance of the city grew stale. I lost faith in the cynicism and chronic detachment that today passes for “cool.” I began to hunt for meaning: in life, in love, in music.

Like Aesop’s country mouse I decided, “Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.”

And then I stumbled onto something so outside of my musical box and, well, so totally different from the me that I thought I was, that I got mixed up a little on the inside when I realized that I liked it. I really, really liked it.

 

He loves his wife, cause she’s that wife that decorates on the 4th of JulyBut says, “Every day’s Independence Day.”She’s Golden Rule, teaches schoolSome folks say it isn’t coolBut she says the Pledge of Allegiance anyway.

To a northeastern fellow such as me with Generation-X ears, the glory of country music is its total lack of irony. It is what it is. And that means corny, romantic, tough, funny, clever, patriotic, faithful, authentic, and upbeat. Country music makes no comment on the emotions it appeals to. And it makes absolutely no apologies.

Country music doesn’t really care what a city mouse thinks. If it cared, it wouldn’t be country. 

We live in southwestern Connecticut now, still about 25 miles outside New York City. Still not in the country. So how happy was I to learn a few months ago that a new station transmitting out of Danbury—about 20 miles north of us—was switching to a country format?

Very.

It wasn’t what I would call real country music (I like the outlaws: Waylon, Willie, Billy Joe Shaver—now that’s cool). This was Nashville country. We’re talking Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, and, yes, Toby Keith. But it was better than nothing, and it was waaaaaay better than the local radio alternatives, which consistently depict a nightclub culture that is not only completely foreign to me but runs counter to every instinct I have about raising a family in a decent and honorable way.   

When your hear us in the clubYou gotta turn the s***up

No thanks, ma’am.

Anyway, we couldn’t tune the country station in at home, but it came in loud and clear in the car, which made tooling around town with the kids a delight. Instead of listening to Barney CDs, we could all listen to the radio together. There were songs about a harvest moon in Kansas and the love of a good woman. Daddy didn’t have to worry that the singer would start rhapsodizing about the graphic joys of illicit encounters in the back room of da club.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh. What a relief.

All was right in the land when … the station unexpectedly switched formats. I think it was because a new country station out of New York City came on the air and gobbled up the smallish local market for hokum.

There ain’t room enough fer two country stations in this town.

The problem for me is—we can’t get the new station. Can’t get it at home. Can’t get it in the car. We’re out of range. So I’ve lost my lifeline. I’ve lost the precious and rare place on the radio dial that all ages could listen to and enjoy.

Now we’ve gone go back to listening to the “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” song on the Barney CD. I’m already starting to slip. The cynicism is starting to creep back in. My dark and sour heart is once again casting a wicked shadow over my thoughts. I can feel myself detaching.

I need to get my innocence back—rediscover myself. I need to find my way home. Turns out that hokum does work on me. Works every time.

Am I country, or what?

  1. Richard Finlay

    You need to subscribe to Sirius/XM.

  2. Devereaux

    She’s gone, Gone. Gone.

    Gone like a freight train, Gone like yesterday

    Gone like a soldier in the Civil War – bang, bang.

    Gone like a 57 Cadillac ain’t never comin’ back.

  3. Johnny Dubya

    Matthew, I made the reverse transition, from growing up in Fairfield County, CT to raising a family in Morris County, NJ, and I similarly have developed a taste for country music in my adulthood.

    I’m curious, though, as to why you are still listening to terrestrial radio stations.  If, like me, you don’t want to pay for Sirius XM, there’s always Pandora.  I’m going to sound like an advertisement here, but with the Pandora app you can plug your smartphone or iPad into your home (or car) stereo or, even better, do as I have done and hook up a Sonos unit (which works with Pandora) to your home stereo.  You can also simply play Pandora on your computer, if you have good speakers attached to it.

    Then, you can create your own “stations”.  For example, my “Bakersfield” station is customized to play Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Wynn Stewart, Freddie Hart, Red Simpson, etc.

  4. Randy Weivoda

    Wow.  I didn’t know there were places in America with no country stations. 

  5. Matthew Hennessey
    C

    I do have Spotify, so I can call up the country when I need it, but the Hennesseys are so country, we don’t have a smartphone. That’s called keepin’ it real!

  6. Matthew Hennessey
    C
    Randy Weivoda: Wow.  I didn’t know there were places in America with no country stations.  · 6 minutes ago

    I know, it’s vexing. All we have to do is drive about an hour north and just about every station on the dial is country. We are in a blackout zone.

  7. PsychLynne

    I came home to country music after endlessly making fun of my daddy listening to it.  Trisha Yearwood won me over.  Now, I listen to old and new, classic and crossover.  I like it for the same reasons you mentioned.  Everyone can listen to it–I’m not horrified by the kids singing it; it’s sweet and sometimes makes me cry.   

    How important is satellite radio in supporting a country music habit?  We keep ours, even after 2 years of my husband’s unemployment.  We gave up 99% of eating out, professional memberships, magazines, and other stuff…but access to 24/7 country music stays! (Although the Broadway station is really good, too!)

  8. OkieSailor

    Get Pandora on your phone, i pad, computer… Set a few stations by entering your favorite artist. Enjoy.

  9. Carver

    You left Dwight Yoakam off your “Bakersfield” List Dubya. I have to recommend him by name because he is terrific. One of the reasons country is so big right now is that the fans still don’t mind buying CD’s.  And to begin your collection Matthew, start with the Derailers’ “Genuine” and Dwight’s “There was a Way”. I always thought the ironic turn of phrase was the strong suit of good country writing. Emmylou Harris’ “Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town” is another favorite. Both Dwight and the Derailers have loving tribute albums to Buck Owens which are worth having. But for a crash course in real honest to god essential country – with the appropriate flavor. Listen on-line every Wednesday to WEVL Memphis from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm (central).

  10. DrewInWisconsin

    I grew up surrounded by country, but rejected it as uncool sometime in my teens. And even though it’s still the number one format in our radio market, it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I found myself listening to country music on an internet radio station while I worked.

    And I liked it. How did that happen?

    I think you nailed it when you described it as having a lack of irony. We’ve just gone through a couple decades marked by a pop culture absolutely soaking in irony, and the soul longs for something genuine.

    The country format features songs about drinking beer, songs about Jesus, and songs about drinking beer with Jesus. And it works! Maybe because it’s honest.

    The other thing is that country music reminds me that there’s still an America out there that’s good, that’s worth saving, and that’s about as far from Washington politics that you can get (which is why it’s worth saving). Country music gives me hope.

  11. The King Prawn

    Although there is quite a bit of country I can’t stomach, I have found myself listening to much more of it in the last couple of years. Pop culture just can’t write romantic songs (which I love to share with my wife) or good stories  the way country can. What really shocks me, however,  is the musical complexity of bands like Zac Brown.

  12. Nathaniel Wright

    iHeart Radio either the app or the app on your Xbox should do the trick.

  13. Pilli

    I grew up in the E. Tennessee mountains listening to Knoxville radio stations and watching Knoxville T.V. stations.  On the radio, I listened to “Ebby Arbald” (Eddy Arnold) then Ray Price, Roy Acuff, Skeeter Davis,Webb Pierce and many others.

    On TV there was Porter Waggoner and his Wagon Masters.  EVERYBODY was on that show.

    There was a locally produced early morning TV show that featured live (and it really was live back then) local talent.  Dolly Parton was on it several times.  She was in her early teens as I recall.

    Country music was much less polished then.  The production facilities usually consisted of a microphone and a recorder in a bare room.  But you knew it was REAL just because of that.

    Country music today has high production values, surround sound, large orchestras in support and is darn good to hear.  Sometimes though, I miss the old sound… a little rough, a little scratchy, but dead, solid Honest.

    BTW…there are only two kinds of music:  Country and Western.  ;-)

  14. The Mugwump

    Since when does hokum consist of familial duty, community service, intelligent patriotism, and a recognition of God the Supreme?  Country music works because it resonates with those things we know are good and righteous.  

  15. Matthew Hennessey
    C
    ~Paules: Since when does hokum consist of familial duty, community service, intelligent patriotism, and a recognition of God the Supreme?  Country music works because it resonates with those things we know are good and righteous.   · 53 minutes ago

    The old me thought it hokum. 

  16. Matthew Hennessey
    C
    Carver: You left Dwight Yoakam off your “Bakersfield” List Dubya. I have to recommend him by name because he is terrific. One of the reasons country is so big right now is that the fans still don’t mind buying CD’s.  And to begin your collection Matthew, start with the Derailers’ “Genuine” and Dwight’s “There was a Way”. I always thought the ironic turn of phrase was the strong suit of good country writing. Emmylou Harris’ “Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town” is another favorite. Both Dwight and the Derailers have loving tribute albums to Buck Owens which are worth having. But for a crash course in real honest to god essential country – with the appropriate flavor. Listen on-line every Wednesday to WEVL Memphis from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm (central). · 2 hours ago

    Thanks for these suggestions. I’ll definitely listen on Wednesday!

  17. Annefy

    What a fun post! Beach kid here, as far from country as you can get. I had talk radio on all the time, even when car pooling. Then one of favorite hosts – Peter Tilden – went from talk to country. And even though Peter has gone back to talk, I’ve still got a preset for country. For years my excuse was I didn’t have to worry about the kids hearing anything. But it was just an excuse. irony and cynicism died for me officially on 9 11, but I think it was on life support through the 90s. Lots of road trips with my family and young kids throughout the west. We found ourselves in a 4th of July parade once in Montana. We were heading to Glacier to meet everyone, went through a one street town and the parade was just starting. It was just easier to make us part of the parade – 15 passenger van, kayaks on the top, four kids hanging out the window. And what a welcome we got. I dare anyone to not get a tear in their eye when listening to Toby Keith after you’ve had an experience like that.

  18. Tran Quil

    Josh Turner, singing “Find Me a Baby” and ya gotta watch the video.  Love me some country music!!

  19. Matthew Hennessey
    C
    Annefy: irony and cynicism died for me officially on 9 11

    Me too. And considering it changed everything else in my life, I suppose it must have had something to do with changing–let’s say improving–my taste in music as well. 

    Some of you may be interested in this, which I just saw Josh Trevino Tweet. A “new” Townes Van Zandt album coming out tomorrow: 

    http://www.texasmonthly.com/story/exclusive-%E2%80%9Cheavenly-houseboat-blues%E2%80%9D-townes-van-zandt#

  20. Pilli

    “He never buys nothin’ he can’t fix. WD-40 and a Craftsman wrench.”  

    1)  Only two tools you really need:  WD-40 and duct tape.  If it is supposed to move and it doesn’t use the WD-40.  Is it moves and it shouldn’t…duct tape.

    2)  If you can’t fix it with a hammer…it’s an electrical problem.

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