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?
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?