Dear County Music,
I heard that you featured the Backstreet Boys on one of your fancy televised award shows the other night and the crowd loved it. The fucking Backstreet Boys. Are you kidding me? But you know what, County Music? I ain’t even mad.
Yes, there was a time when I would have been insanely outraged to see you debase yourself in this casual way. We’ve been through a lot together, you and me. Remember how you would sing to me all summer long though the AM radio while I endlessly drove that tractor around those dusty dryland wheat fields? Those rowdy college parties and dive bars? The rodeo dances? That time my first marriage unraveled? That one night after my dad died and we stayed up late drinking whiskey? We had us some times, Country Music, yes we did.
My dad, by the way, introduced us back so long ago I that I don’t even remember when it happened. You were just always there. He had a stack of vinyl albums with names like Williams, Snow, Wills, Tubbs, Robbins, Cash, and Haggard. I spent my formative year seduced by your stories. You were often sad, lonely, melancholic, but you could also be joyous and angry. You spoke of bad habits and soured relationships, work that didn’t pay enough, bills that didn’t get paid at all, rain that never came. You were the poet of rural folks, the chronicler of the working poor. You spoke in the vernacular and of the values my grandparents and parents understood. You had your gimmicky and trite side, too, and often leaned too heavily on nostalgia. But at your best, you were Truth and you could make magic with just three chords.
To be honest, I’ve been losing my interest in you for a while, Country Music. For years, actually. Keith Whitley died. Garth Brooks released a pop album. No more Merle Haggard on the radio. George Strait was great, of course, as was Dwight Yoakam, early Reba, and Alan Jackson. The trend, though, began moving away from songs and toward performers. And the songs were always what I loved most about you.
You’ve also smoothed out some of your rough edges, favoring pretty voices and Bros in tight jeans, avoiding the risks of saying something interesting. You look nice, but your songs have taken on the character of your performers. And that’s too bad because the rural folks and working poor who were your roots have been struggling for a while. You used to make songs that spoke of those struggles and to those struggling. It seems like a missed opportunity, that there’s a lot that a song could say about these times.
I’ll give you this. You still can entertain. You’re still a good time. But you seem stuck in the rut of promoting the cultural heritage of socially conservative young southern men who like pickups and bonfires. You drink the “good stuff” to become the life of the party, never to drown your sorrows or hide your pain. I guess what I’m saying is the County Music that I used to know was not exclusively about escapism and celebrating our carefree younger selves. You used to use songs to search for meaning in this hot mess we call life.
But listen to me carrying on. I don’t want to be the guy complaining about the noise and all the partying. I don’t mean to put the blame on you. There’s nothing wrong with the direction you’ve taken if it makes you happy. A lot of people love you. You’ll continue to do fine without me. It’s not your responsibility to make me happy. I guess what I am saying is that it’s not you, Country Music, it’s me. Goodbye.