Pat Brothwell hated country music, then he came to his senses.
If you look at my iTunes, 11 of my top 25 songs are country. When I listen to the radio, the country station is primarily what I land on. But once upon a time I hated country music, or at least I told everybody I hated it.
I hadn’t really listened to enough to say whether I hated it, but it was important to me to project that I was not into country. In my defense this was during my teenage years. I also thought turtleneck sweaters were a cool look, and I used to wear knit hats and down vests with tee-shirts. Hating country music was just another item on the long list of things that I did as a teenager that make me want to travel back in time and punch myself in the back of the head.
I started to come around to country during college when I finally stopped being an idiot and realized how relatable it is. As much as I would’ve liked it to have described my weekend, I have little to no experience being “up in da club getting tipsy.” But Blake Shelton’s classic “The More I Drink,” about the guy who if he has one beer has 13, and you can’t get him off the karaoke machine? Welcome to my Saturday nights.
At first it was the drinking and partying songs that drew me in and, well, boozing is celebrated in country music much more openly then it is in some other genres. I like the transparency of it. I like how upfront it is, but we’ll touch on that momentarily. Songs like “The More I Drink” and “Keg in the Closet” and “One More Drinking Song” were fun, irreverent and relatable. These songs eased me onto the country music train.
I remember one time hearing someone say something along the lines of, “I hate country music because it’s all about love, beer, dogs and tractors,” and I thought to myself, wait a minute here. I cannot think of a single genre of music where love is not the primary subject, and I like both beer and dogs. While I wouldn’t get excited about a tractor I don’t have anything against them. Why was I against country again?
It probably helps that I grew up in the kind of area many country artists write about, much as I didn’t want to believe it. The references to dirt roads, clear skies, hanging down by the Quick Mart (Turkey Hill in my case) and train trestles might seem hokey to some, but they resonate with me. It was, and is, my reality. So I chuckle when Miranda Lambert muses about “being stars of the town since we were 17,” and when Eric Church sings about the old jeep and stars in the sky, I agree wholeheartedly agree that it reminds me of the “soundtrack to a July Saturday night.”
I like country because what you call formulaic I call comforting. I’ve never believed that music had to break barriers to be considered great. There’s a lack of “try” here. You don’t have to do much digging or interpreting to figure out what a lot of country music is about. Luke Bryan’s “I Don’t Want This Night to End” is about not wanting the night to end. “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” is about a girl that thinks a guy’s tractor is sexy. Kip Moore’s “Beer Money,” is about, you guessed it, beer money. There’s something refreshing and so unpretentious about country music.
I also dig how much friendship is discussed in country songs, which is why I think the whole party-music sort of appealed to me in the first place. At these parties there are no groupies or entourages or flashy lights or models. It celebrates drinking and carrying on with your friends, with people you’ve known for a while and that’s something I think is sorely lacking in music, especially male friendships. Country music celebrates these just as much as the unrequited love and “the one that got away,” and to be honest those friendships are the ones I’d rather dwell on.
I also like country music’s unapologetically patriotic attitude. While the whole “I’ll put a boot in your ass because it’s the American way” thing is gross (Toby Keith, I try to like you) and relies on outdated tropes and generalized stereotypes, what other genre supports our troops and routinely brags about how great it is to be an American? Musically and culturally it’s refreshing. There’s a disturbing trend in people my age to be embarrassed, or at least critical, of being American. Our country is not without its faults but I get tired of hearing about them. Maybe it’s coming from a very military based family, but I always found that attitude to be very derivative and almost a vindication of being artistic and deep. It’s tacky and it might be even grosser than the Toby Keith song I just referenced.
That’s not to say that simple narratives and good-old themes make the music simple, and saying that saying country is all about booze and friends and the good ole-US of A is unfair. There’s plenty of country tunes that tackle bigger, more universal issues. I challenge you to listen to the Eli Young Band’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” and not allow the pent up frustration of dreams deferred move you, or turn on Billy Currington’s “Walk A Little Straighter Daddy” and not feel some empathy for the kid who narrates the verses.
I could go on but believe that as far as music goes, I can’t tell you how you relate to a particular type. That’s part of the fun of it, that everyone relates or has their own personal experience from a song. I hope I’ve done at least a reasonable job establishing both what an idiot I used to be as well as why country should not receive the vitriol and dismissiveness that it does; that you should at least give it a chance.
photo Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office/Flickr