When I was younger, I thought country music was beneath me: I didn’t listen to it and felt contempt for the idea of it.
One day, I was in a coffee shop buying some donuts for the road, and I happened to pick up a Brooks & Dunn record, having no idea who they were or, indeed, how famous they were. I figured the CD might give me a few ideas for my own songs.
I was immediately hooked. What I came to like in Brooks & Dunn, and in other country singers I have come to admire—Alan Jackson, Jimmy Buffet, and Tim McGraw—are the following:
1. Country Music is not obsessed with the new, continually declaring a previous generation ‘dead.’ Country music honors its ancestor and traditions.
2. Far from what I once thought, country music lyrics are not stodgy and sentimental: though they give the sentimental their due, they are often sharp, pungent, profound, and –perhaps most surprising to me—witty and tongue-in-cheek. I think of Brooks & Dunn’s ‘North of heaven, south of Santa Fe,’ which is at once dreamily romantic and piquantly ironic. Country musicians take their audience and their subject seriously enough to write about what is perennially meaningful—emotional crises, the redemption of love, the value of hard work and faith—while never taking themselves too seriously.
3. Country music loves America and cares about those Americans in ‘fly-over country’ whom sophisticated New Yorkers and CBC listeners love to hate: the farmers, ranchers, truck drivers, waitresses and cowboys who still work the land, go to church, and fight the wars that keep other Americans safe (at least for now). Country music honors parents and the generations that came before. It believes there are still American values worth fighting for. And it makes beautiful, memorable music out of its faith in those people and that land.