Saturday, October 15, 2005

Working blue in a red state

I haven't continued my XM country channel survey, but I have had more exposure to country music. Sort of.

At my gym, someone has been tuning one of the eight TVs to CMT, the country channel. This is actually a bit of an improvement over having six or seven of the TVs assigned to "news" channels, and it's an improvement over the reruns of The Practice favored by some anonymous exerciser.

I take my iPod to the gym, so I'm not listening to any of the TV screens. But whoever likes CMT also likes closed-captioning. And let me tell you -- if you've never seen country music videos while reading captioned lyrics, you haven't lived.

The themes of the videos are as follows:
  1. Let's drink!
  2. Hey, we're drinkin'! Cool!
  3. Hey man, better play country music while we're drinkin'!
  4. I like country music!
  5. I like you, too!
  6. Let's make love ...
  7. Now that I'm sober, I'm going to describe making love to you in graphic detail. In case that's too subtle for some viewers, we'll fill in the gaps in the mental picture with the video.
  8. Hey, you're making love with someone else.
  9. Now that you're making love with someone else, I'm going to reminisce in graphic detail.
Seriously -- if these videos were on MTV, we'd have hearings on Capitol Hill. We see mobs of people singing about drinking, couples in slow-motion foreplay and afterplay a la Chris Isaak's Wicked Game video, and the occasional bit of drunk driving.

We're told these days that country music is one of the factors in the red state-blue state divide. That may be so, but this proves that the "red" tent is spacious, like a wedding reception tent in which the minister chats calmly at one end while things get rowdy at the other. In country circles, it's even OK to express admiration for France -- Bordeaux takes its place alongside Milwaukee and other areas of alcohol production in the video for the aptly-named tune Alcohol (no, not the wry Barenaked Ladies effort by that name).

The videos that don't take place in a bedroom generally take place in a country bar. (One variant: A guy dreams that he's in a bedroom with a beautiful woman but wakes up on the couch with his golden retriever.) These bars are all apparently smoke-free, and all the women look and dance like the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. The men are all scruffy and good looking along the lines of Teri Hatcher's guy in Desperate Housewives ... Mike? Plumber guy?

Shania Twain apparently has an aversion to such places, though. In her video, the guy she's singing about is strutting through a country bar. But Ms. Navel appears only on the bar's TVs. That has to be a blow to her secondary-road street cred.

Gretchen Wilson, on the other hand, has the common decency to be in the country bar as both a performer and a customer in the funniest video I've seen in years, All Jacked Up. (I was listening to Soundgarden at the time, but I later gave it a listen on CMT's site.)

Wilson checks in at the bar, drinks more than she anticipated, winks at a guy, gets punched out by the guy's "10-foot-2" girlfriend (who has a beard, kind of like the mom in a bunch of old Madness videos), can't find the keys to her truck, grabs a tire iron to knock out the window, gets a friend of hers to drive and smashes the truck into the bar. Now that's an evening.

On stage, the other Wilson (dressed in a different T-shirt) sings while her band takes shots and swigs, setting down their beers or tossing away their shot glasses just in time to play the next riff. I guess they start to doze off on the job -- by the end, a couple of little people have attacked the guitarist's gonads, Hank Williams Jr. is playing guitar and Kid Rock is singing Wilson's last line.

Hey, I didn't say it made sense.

As you could tell from the XM review, I've never been much of a country fan, and I don't think that'll change. I liked this video better with the sound off, though Wilson has a voice that works pretty well for the material.

But after seeing these videos, I see the appeal. They're selling a lifestyle in a far different way than, say, the Jonatha Brooke tunes that played on my iPod while I watched the next video, which was something like "Don't go lovin' on nobody who ain't gonna give you lovin' like the way I was lovin' when you were lovin' me" or some other such Mobius-strip reasoning. I don't even drink, but the notion of getting "jacked up" in a country bar while I watch Mrs. MMM and Gretchen Wilson slug it out over me is ... OK, I'm getting carried away.

Basically, CMT is selling a country lifestyle, and MTV is selling a hip-hop lifestyle. That's no contest. The country lifestyle is more affordable, for one thing -- you can wear a flannel shirt and pair of blue jeans that costs a hundred or so less than the post-FUBU pseudo-sports wear that looks like it was designed by a bunch of elementary school kids. All rappers these days apparently have pools designed not so much for swimming as for gazing at their reflections. In the hip-hop world, you might occasionally have to put a cap in someone's ass; in the country world, the worst that could happen is getting punched out and waking up the next morning with the dog.

I've always veered toward high-falootin' music with some artistic pretensions, and I've never been much of a party guy. If I were, I'd probably load up on a bunch of '80s and early '90s pre-grunge alternative and campy retro stuff. But if my iPod and boomboxes all broke, leaving just a TV with no Music Choice channels, I'd pick CMT over MTV.

Bottom line -- in hip-hop, people look like they're partying for revenge. In country, they're just partying.


misterdoowoop said...

Screw TV period. Music was made for listening like in Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Rex Allen, Webb Pierce, Leffty Frizzel, David Alan Coe, Faron Young, Patsy Cline, Grandpa Jones, Merle Haggard( The poet laureate of Calif ), Buck Owens, Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan ( Sons of the Pioneers ), Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Porter Wagoner, Jimmie Rodgers ( the father of country music ), Ernest tubb, George Jones, Bob Wills, Ray Price, Kitty Wells. I know I have overlooked a few but today's country sucks even for a youngster like me. Those were the days my friend. Well I'll make two exceptions.. The Great Divide ( Pour Me a Vacation ) and Big & Rich ( Why Does Everybody want to Kick My Ass )

Michael said...

My girlfriend loves country music. I have seen every video you describe. You are spot on about the general tone of sald videos, and the videos being more entertaining than MTV's fare. Allow me to procrastinate by making a few observations:

1. On CMT, every third video is by either Rascal Flatts, or Jo Dee Messina. I cannot stand either one of these artists, so I can never keep watching for very long.

2. I cannot tell the female country artists apart anymore, there seem to be hundreds of them, all cheerleader pretty and all singing the same three songs. We call them Fembots. My gf is all about the late 80's early 90's girls she grew up with (Pam Tillis, Mary Chapin Carpenter) and isn't much for the fembots. Gretchen is the exception of course. She (and I) love Gretchen, just love her, her Charlie Daniels/Hank Jr. affiliations notwithstanding.

3. I, like all right thinking people, hate Toby Keith. Perhaps for that reason I am riveted by the video for "I ain't as good as I once was," where he gets savagely punched in the face. I've seen it at least 30 times, I know its coming, but I watch it over and over again.

4. If you are into James Burtonesque country guitar, Brad Paisely ain't kiddin. Check out some of his back catalog.

5. Every once in a great while, they will play a Del McCoury Band video, or Nickel Creek, or the Duhks. I am largely indifferent to most country, but man do I love me some bluegrass. I would gladly sit through half an hour of Toby and Jo Dee for a Del McCoury video.

misterdoowoop said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
misterdoowoop said...

Oh yeah, and from downuder way, there's the legend, Slim Dusty and Arthur Blanch. Dick Sposwood at WAMU might still play some of their tunes.