Driving around rural and small town America, Christian talk and Country Music fill the airwaves. In my entire record collection, I have maybe two bona fide Country albums, a greatest hits collection of Hank Williams and one by Dolly Parton. My interest in Williams was by way of Rock Music as he was a key influence on early Rock n Roll. And Dolly Parton’s album got high marks in the Rolling Stone Record Guide. I might have listened to Williams album once and Parton’s album a few times. And, I’m not counting the works of Bob Dylan & the Band, the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grateful Dead, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger, Crosby-Stills-and-Nash, and many others who drew inspiration from Country Music(or even played it straight). The fact remains the Country Music community never embraced those acts as part of its own, though the relations between Nashville and the Rock community was generally respectful, at least at the professional level.
Though the inertia of Country Music has never been my thing — even Country Rock is best when country-inflected than full-blown country, which is why Dylans’ NASHVILLE SKYLINE is rather lightweight apart from “Lay Lady Lay” — , it’s not a bad way to pass the time when you have nothing else to do, which is usually the case when you’re driving for hours on end through rural areas. The scenery is nice, and the Country Music, at the very least, is generally unobtrusive, much like Mexican music(which I prefer to Punk, Heavy Metal, Rap, and Grunge). You can listen to it or ignore it, and it doesn’t make much difference either way, even to the singer as a ‘country boy can survive’. Granted, rural isn’t to be confused with natural. Despite the proximity, rurality is nature tamed and rendered accessible. You can take it easy out in the country but not in nature, best represented by Classical Music of the Romantic Period.
Last year, two Country songs played regularly on the radio as I drove across Tennessee. Neither is great but hit the mark and remained with me. One is an easy-going feel-good song, an affirmation of family and community. It’s called “We Didn’t Have Much” by Justin Moore. The other, Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country” is Biblical in tone, a testament about man’s ties to his roots and land and duty to God above. And, duty to country, meaning both the soil beneath one’s feet and the flag of one’s tribe. It feels righteous and judgmental, harking back to basics from the distractions of modernity. Even though most of the political, economic, and cultural power is concentrated in the city, it’s telling that the synonym for nation is ‘country’, implying that a true nation is about land and roots(or blood and soil) than about ideas and fashions aired in cafes and clubs.
These songs aren’t exactly my cup of tea(or swill of moonshine or glass of beer), but the hokum has the feel of sincerity and heart. It sure beats Country music gone ‘hipster'(or hickster), like this silly song about having a beer with Jesus.
Growing up, no one in my circle, or any other circle for that matter, showed any sign of interest in Country Music. And even my minimal interest was ‘academic’, an acknowledgement of the roots of Rock and Pop, the only music that mattered for most of us. And by ‘Country’, I mean real Country Music(not stuff like the Eagles), though some may contest that what goes by Country is essentially an urban distillation of twang by Nashville, much like Hollywood Americana isn’t real Americana.
Given that generations of Americans have been born and raised in cities and nearby suburbs, the great majority don’t even have country roots to speak of. Also, whereas the great majority of early Anglo, Germanic, and Irish immigrants first settled on farms and then moved to the cities, the later immigrant groups settled in cities around heavy industry and the service sector. As their country roots were entirely in the Old World, they lacked a connection to the American Heartland that old stock white Americans(and blacks) maintained over generations, even in cities.
Besides, for various reasons, Country Music is associated with West Virginia, the South, and the West(with its related cowboy music, leading to ‘Country and Western’, though ‘country’ connotes remaining on the land and putting down roots, like Southern whites who could trace their ancestry on the ground they standing, whereas ‘western’ implies restless wanderlust, the life of the nomad as searcher or exile). Country Music always had a moral component, but its charm and appeal owes to a certain looseness, being a country slacker than a city slicker. Twang can’t be too ‘anal’. Yet, despite the natural(and even a bit vulgar) side to Country(once even set against urban bourgeois repression), it’s Christian elements prevent it from going over the cliff into full-blown pagan barbarism, which later came with Heavy Metal, the favored music of rural kids who just about had enough of Jesus talk(though there are also Metal Jesus bands). The anarcho-chastity contradiction of Country, its appreciation of spontaneity(uninhibited by excessive learning and ‘culture’) and anxiety about coarseness, was perfectly illustrated in the first radio interview scene in COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER.
Paradoxically, it is this very ‘innocence’ that makes rural and small-town girls so easy to prey on by the increasingly depraved and sexualized industry. Whether the authority is moral or immoral, simple childlike minds have fewer defenses against its manipulations. Similarly, the male counterparts make ideal cannon fodder for the War Industry and Neocons. Make country girls shake the ass and make country boys wave the flag.
Country Music as a brand isn’t synonymous with rural music. New England Folk Tradition is relatively prim, sung with head held high and controlled breath, closer to the English ballad tradition. Besides, the religions up north were less colorful than Baptist denominations in the South with a higher proportion of hillbillies, bumpkins, hicks, and the like, the sort of people with lower class backgrounds in the Old World. The hierarchy inherent in the system maintained by the Southern gentry also meant more stringent class divisions between high culture and low culture, and Country arose from the latter. People who liked to take their time and were never in no hurry. Still, Country culture is intertwined with work and getting things done, even if not at breakneck pace, because farm work sure ain’t easy. It’s what distinguishes Country culture from Hippie culture that pined for the country and nature(as if they were interchangeable) and had little idea as to how much work country-living entailed; for starters, you have to grow your own food, which doesn’t fall from the sky or sit on supermarket shelves. Hippies, raised mostly in cities and suburbs, had this notion that nature, sprinkled with a bit of good vibes, would produce all that one needed. Most hippie communes depended on food brought from the outside than grown on the land. It was hard to grow much when too many were stoned, talking with trees, or diddling one another.
Country Music couldn’t have developed in a world of New England ‘Grammar Nazis’ and sticklers for detail as drawl could only have thrived in a world of relative linguistic laxness and ‘creativity’, making it sound more ‘ignorant and stupid’ but also more ‘colorful’, like Southern cooking. This also goes for Cajun French Hillbillies in the Louisiana bayou, like in the film SOUTHERN COMFORT. Even though whites in the North also developed different ‘dialects’, especially among the Italians, the greater centralization of education and media reach led to greater standardization. Indeed, Canadian whites and Northern American whites sound more alike than do the latter and Southern whites.
Rurality alone doesn’t make for ‘Country’. It’s no wonder it didn’t emerge from Mormons and the Amish. Mormons, ever status conscious, were eager to emulate their ‘betters’, the respectable and educated folks, and the Amish have always been wary of fun and good times.
Country Music isn’t tolerant on themes but is so on form and expression. God is truth but you need not be too ‘dignified’ in showing your love and devotion. It’s less embarrassed about being ignorant, down-to-earth, and even a bit vulgar as long as one hits the proper thematic notes. Amish folks could farm for a thousand years but never warm to someone like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, or Tammy Wynette sharing their stories and feelings with an open heart.
And if the North embarked on rapid industrialization, the South remained agricultural with more of its rural and small town cultures intact. Though Folk Music Movement in the late 50s and early 60s drew influence from all across America, the themes were often intertwined with issues of labor, struggle, and social justice. A key difference between the North and South, roughly speaking at least, was the rural traditions transitioned into urban idioms in the North whereas rurality clung to Southern music. But then, northern folk styles were less ‘musical’, more about making a point than making noise. Compare “The Battle Cry of Freedom” by a Massachusetts composer to “I’m a Good Ole Rebel(or should it be Revel)”. Compare Neil Young’s preening “Southern Man” with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”. Puritanical censure vs down-to-earth celebration. Interesting that the looser and more freewheeling style of the South developed in proximity to slavery.
Unfortunately, much of what came to be Country Music was sanitized into Family Music, much like Disney bowdlerized the darker and juicier elements of Fairy Tales to make it kid-friendly, thereby smoothing the edges of authentic folk idioms in the South. Then, no wonder that Country Music had to wait for Rockers to pump some blood back into it.
It’s also telling that some of the finest songs about small town or rural folks aren’t Country. Take Bruce Springsteen’s “The River”, the themes of which touch on issues familiar to rural and small town folks: Economic uncertainty, making do with less, a sense of being left behind. Yet, “The River” isn’t Country because of the stark element of angst and bitterness, with nothing to fall back on but the memory of youth, whereas Country is for all ages and in honor of the dead as well as the living. Though “The River” begins with a son doing like his father done, there’s little sense of connection or gratitude, just a grim sense of being caught in a socio-economic trap with no way out. One feels chained than rooted. Having a Union card simply means a steady job at best(and also implies class struggle along the lines of the documentary HARLAN COUNTRY U.S.A), but even that’s threatened by looming economic changes. The man has no sense of roots, family, or community. The only part of town with any meaning for him is a stretch of river as solace, which however is private, his alone. It’s a place of nostalgia, bittersweet in recalling what once was but also reminding of what was lost.
A genuine country song could list the same troubles but with a sense of refuge in community, tradition, and God & Country. So, even with facing tough times ahead, a man would feel whole, a part of a folk than a bundle of emotions wound up tight and haunted by betrayal. A Country song would offer some honey; it’d be tough but tough love. There would be room for grace and comfort along with anxiety and sadness. But Springsteen’s tale pares it down to dark and depressing. To be sure, it is a great song, a work of art, which can’t be said of most Country Songs, even good ones. Dark and brooding, it has the courage to stare into the abyss of alienation in a community gone stale. (Still, one wonders if it was Springsteen’s penetrating empathy or knack for soulful kitsch. Even as a faker, the Boss was a master forger at portraying the lonely side of Americana. A song in somewhat similar vein on the same album is “Point Blank”, but that’s pure soap. For wider appeal, Springsteen let in more sunshine in BORN IN THE U.S.A., wrapped in Reaganesque patriotism despite his partisan hackery for the Democratic Party. The later album THE GHOST OF TOM JOAD returned to darker themes, but the personal element was gone, along with shades of psychology, and what remained was humorless Peter-Seegerian secular sermonizing, this time in favor of open borders that have done much to undercut blue collar America, the concerns of which, as it turns out, was secondary to hobnobbing and globe-trotting with the globo-billionaire jet-set crowd as far Boss was concerned. Despite all his real talents and artistry, he proved to be industrial hype than working class hero. Since the 90s, he’s been playing blue-collar music for yuppies, the only people who can afford his ticket prices.)
Though more industrialized than the South by several magnitudes, the majority of people in the North were also country folks through most of the 19th century. But due to rapid transformation from agrarian to industrial economy, elements of rural culture either quickly adapted to urban settings or were abandoned altogether. Much simply faded away, known only to musicologists, ethnologists, and cultists. Also, due to mass immigration that had much greater impact on the North than the South, Anglo folk traditions merged with those of various ethnic groups. One tendency was to meld the diverse styles into one, but another was to reject the particularities of each in favor of a generic pop style(as ‘consensus’) that would serve as a cultural unifier of Melting Pot America. Another unifying element, paradoxically enough, was the ‘Jazz Singer’ effect whereupon whites of various backgrounds gravitated toward black-inflected music, e.g. the rival ethnic gangsters in THE COTTON CLUB(directed by Francis Ford Coppola) who frequent a musical venue of tap-dancing Negroes. Minstrel shows also united various white groups in black face. How do you tell a Jew from an Irishman from an Anglo in black face?
Essentially, rural culture in the North has faded and now exists mostly as museum pieces or cultural curiosities(usually as quaint reminders of some interest to outsiders), like a cultural center with exhibitions or dance troupe for the visitors, not much different from what American Indians do for tourists. But it’s not a living culture or a ‘vibrant’ part of national expression.
Indeed, it’s often the case that rural and small town folks even in the North look to Country Music(with southern hillbilly roots) as an expression of their cultural character than dig into their own ethnic pasts with their distinct themes and expressions. (And a Northern or West Coast urbanite is more likely to show interest in southern black blues, like with the Steve Buscemi character in GHOST WORLD, than regain knowledge and appreciation for their own distinct ethnic roots.) Whereas Northern folks either abandoned their rural culture(as irrelevant, simple-minded, or embarrassing) or profoundly adapted it to urbanity though distillation(to the point where the rural roots were hardly discernible), the element of rurality remained with Southern folks even when they caught up with industrialization and modernity.
Then, it’s hardly surprising that a rural type in Wisconsin, Ohio, or New York is more likely to identify with Nashville music than with, say, Scandinavian or German musical roots. Among Southerners, even urbanized ones, rurality came to be regarded as more than a historical phase or economic status. It became woven into the very culture of the South regardless of one’s social place. (In a similar way, even though rural life is mostly associated with grinding poverty and hardship in Northern Europe, something gratefully overcome and relegated to the past, it has richer cultural associations in Southern Europe, with tropes about cheese & wine-making and sunbaked hills. It’s telling that even though Vito Corleone dies in the megapolis of New York in THE GODFATHER, it is in a garden that could be an Edenic microcosm of Old Sicily; and Francis Ford Coppola went from film-making to wine-making as his main passion. Similarly, part of the appeal of Jewish Aliyah to Israel is cultural and historical, one where the past co-exists with modernity. The South exerts a similar appeal to whites in the North and West. Until recently(before its total collapse in 2020), it was the one part of White America that, despite transformation into modernity however belatedly, still retained its sense of heritage. It’s also why Jews were so committed to impugning Southern Heritage because they want whites severed from any sense of roots, which apparently only Jews deserve.)
Several reasons accounted for white southern culture becoming more distinct than one up north. (This is also why the Confederate Flag has gained a certain currency among Northern Folks, spreading even to some parts Europe. When Lynyrd Skynyrd sings about the ‘Southland’, it’s more than an economic community of union members of Bruce Springsteen or the small town nostalgia of John Mellencamp. It’s deeper than political or personal; it’s cultural and historical, so peculiar and pungent in the southern-themed songs of The Band, especially “The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down.”) The pilgrim-ish culture that emanated out of New England tended to be colorless, bloodless, and moralistic. Them folks not only spoke but sang properly(if they sang at all, usually limited to hymns), making for a less musical culture. It’s like the British later drew inspiration from the Negroes because their own clipped cultural norms were fenced within manners and proprieties. Imitating the Negro, they could let things slip and slide and get loose.
Besides, a cultural bargain was necessary between the Anglos and the vast numbers of Germanic and non-Anglo immigrants. Both sides had to surrender a certain degree of cultural distinctness to merge into a ‘more perfect union’. In contrast, Southern white culture fermented in its own love/hate interpretation of America. As James Baldwin wrote, white Southerners, especially after the Civil War, developed a dual identity: A proud victorious one as part of the USA, the biggest, richest, and most powerful country in the world, and a sore victimological one as a people betrayed and defeated by them Yankees. Irish were similar as both participants/profiteers and the conquered/colonized by the British Empire.
For a long time, some observers characterized the South as hopelessly mired in backwardness and nostalgia, unable to grow or move forward, but it also implied the present was haunted by the past, which added an element of mysticism to the culture — no wonder so much of great American literature, popular and serious(Mark Twain to Margaret Mitchell and William Faulkner) is associated with the South —, much like Latin America, with its ‘magic realism’ where time is psychological and subjective than historical and objective. No wonder then the evil husband in VERTIGO uses a Latin trope of ‘Carlotta’ to draw Scotty(James Stewart) into the web.
As newly arrived European immigrants arrived in the Northeast and spread out mainly through the Midwest to the West, the White South was less impacted by demographic transformations — the biggest change prior to post-60s mass immigration was the great black migration OUT of the South — , that is until recently when the South too became inundated with browns and yellows who’ve tipped much of the region in favor of the Democrats, made worse by the newly minted Southern elites being the products of the same globalist Ivy League education(and of course anti-white Jewish Influence). Southern Whites used to stand firm against the black threat and foreign/radical elements, but they dare not go against anything protected or promoted by Jews and, like Lindsey Graham, prefer to bark at Russia, which is now more the bastion of tradition, what the White South used to stand for. Yes, care more about Ukraine(and ‘Muh Israel’) while hiding one’s head in the sand as BLM and Antifa scum desecrate Southern heritage and monuments.
White Southern music had less reason to be self-righteous and priggish because white Southerners were worried about them Negroes. After all, the moralism that ended racial discrimination made Southern Whites vulnerable to waves of black violence, no longer able to be restrained the old way. White Southern music was more about being home and feeling good than doing ‘good’ and feeling self-righteous. There was a lot of talk about God but as a figure of fear and force for tradition than an agent of social reform and salvation. The message was more about moral restraint than moral crusade, more about piety than equality, though given the backwardness of the South, many white rural white folks, the hicks, supported the Democratic Party and its more egalitarian and pro-labor agendas as long as they didn’t interfere with the racial eco-system built up after the Civil War.
And unlike Northern white folk music, white southern music had to be consciously white because the larger presence of blacks in the South. In the overwhelmingly white North, whiteness was simply a given, not something that needed identification and demarcation. In the South, anxiety about the Negroes(and their rambunctious rhythms) informed the development of white music uneasy with musical miscegenation(though, Country Music was influenced by black music, and black Rock-n-Rollers like Chuck Berry took a thing or two from Country rhythms). If Rock n Roll arose from the South as a form of musical miscegenation, with Berry duckwalking to country licks and Elvis shaking to black rhythm, Country Music marked the borders between white culture and black culture(though there were black country singers, and Nashville got increasingly more rhythmic as time went on).
Of course, Country Music had its bad boy camp, the honky-tonk wing, with roots in folk songs of rebels and outlaws, especially following the defeat of the Confederacy. But, as Country Music came to commercial viability as decent music for good white Christian folks, the edge was smoothed, and even the bad boys of Country were more like bad ole boys, or good boys playing a bit bad. Still, the success and survival of Country could not have rested on Family Values alone. If so, polka music too would have been a great success across America. Country music offered just enough leeway for individuality, personality, and maverick posturing to give it some flavor.
Though Country and Western often merged in their shared mythos of the outdoors, the ‛country‛ element proved to be more resilient. Even though rural society has long been eclipsed culturally and demographically, heritage and tradition have more generic value than adventure and movement. The cowboy theme was exciting as long as the Wild West lasted, which wasn’t for long. Western spirit developed as a moment in time, whereas ‘country’ sentiment is timeless. You can have ‘country’ without doing anything and just staying put, whereas ‘western’ material feeds on motion and drama. Country is about down-to-earth values of rural folks who don’t mind keeping it simple and loose(or a heartful reminder to any urbanite who pines for the cornfields and haystacks as the place where his folks, indeed all folks, came from).
Mexican music has a similarly lasting appeal(and limitation). It has changed far less than other musical genres/styles over the years and failed to generate interest among the fashionistas and/or the ‘cool’ crowd, but that’s precisely the recipe for its longevity. It offers a sense of assurance, familiarity, and continuity. It’s like the scene in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S where the salesman at the haute jewelry store remarks about the toy from the Crackerjack box, “That’s nice to know… It gives one a feeling of solidarity, almost of continuity with the past, that sort of thing.” Holly Golightly(Audrey Hepburn) herself was a country girl who took flight for the bright lights, but her sentimentality about her brother and ultimate wish to find the right man to take care of her suggests she isn’t as independent as she lets out.
One thing about current Mexican music(which I sometimes hear on the road) is its remarkable similarity to what it was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. It doesn’t strive to be original, outstanding, or awesome, and that is precisely the appeal for those who seek in music a sense of ‘home’. While plenty of modern Mexicans are into all sorts of music, from heavy metal to rap to techno to whatnot, they’ve also maintained a musical village of their own, and its lack of global import guarantees a certain insularity — unlike certain genres of Black Music(and even American Country to some extent), there’s been far less ‘appropriation’ of Mexican music by non-Mexicans, except as comical effect.
Mexicans, not a very literary people, can always find a piece of ‘home’ wherever they are with their music. There certainly are lots of ‘Mexican’-language radio stations all across America, even in areas where the prevailing culture, demographic or popular, is overwhelmingly un-Mexican. Most Americans probably regard it as the stuff that lawn-mowers and dish-washers(and plenty of illegals) listen to in their free time. Despite being uprooted far from their country of origin, the sense-of-home may be bigger among Mexicans in the US than among whites with no similar sense of ‘home music’; they know House Music, which appeals to the young(and young-at-heart), whereas ‘home music’ is intergenerational in appeal, like the old-time Westerns on TV.
Likewise, Country is like a log that burns slow but for a long time, as opposed to the funeral pyres of Rock music that grabs at the moment. Greatness and/or excitement on the level of, say, the Doors “Light My Fire” is hard to sustain, whereas the generally accepted mediocrity of Country Music can be to its advantage, a Christian acceptance of nobodies than an infatuation with the great somebody. Whereas people in Country Music take pride in their humble roots and place with common folks(and often sing about it), Rock musicians replace biography with mythology, as if they were created by the gods. Some Country Music stars are huge, but the soul of Country puts them on the same plane as the fans; indeed, not forgetting where you came from is at the very heart of Country, whereas Rock stardom is about standing atop the pedestal above the masses who are less fans than worshipers.
Rock devotees are eager for the next great song or next great act, but Country fans rarely anticipate greatness and rather appreciate their music’s sense of cultural boundary, a world to call their own oblivious to the whims of fashion and the pressures of the dog-eat-dog world. In a way, one might say it’s more like baseball, rarely exciting and without awesome athletics but something one can take in as a pastime than merely a spectacle.
And Rock is often outrageous or over-the-top, like a storm or tidal wave, it’s not something one can take in stride, like fishing on a boat with friends or family in a pond or lake. Steadiness is intrinsic to Country. Dolly Parton has been a perfect embodiment of Nashville but also something more. Though one of the biggest stars of the industry, she’s the real thing than a fabrication, like so many stars, pop and country, over the years. And even though none of her songs count as great, almost all of them are solid and enjoyable. Though generally mocked as the big-boobed lady among the sophistos and urbanites, her cheerful affability is irresistible. It isn’t often that talent and personality come in one package, and Parton is one of the fortunate few. And even though some of her songs are a bit racy, they flirt with than flounder in the issues. Usually, there’s an element of regret and pathos, like in Tammy Wynette’s song “D.I.V.O.R.C.E”, more about lamentation than liberation. And immorality is often a roundabout morality to teach a lesson for the one who initiated the trouble. So, Wynette’s “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” is as much about setting a man straight as about a woman going crooked.
Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette make an interesting pair. Wynette was the natural aristocrat of Country, just by physiognomy alone. The queen of the castle made of haystacks. Dolly Parton, for all her fame-and-fortune(and worldliness that came with it), always had about her the earthiness of a peasant girl, as if she couldn’t help saying what came naturally, with just enough manners(and wits) to keep it safe and proper, if not exactly wholesome(especially as plenty of fans were as fixated on her rack as on her act). In movies like 9 to 5 and THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, Hollywood tried to turn her into a hayseed Marilyn Monroe(or Mae West or Judy Holliday), but her core persona was such that it just wasn’t in her to be anything more than a Country Girl. Still, her hairdo and makeup were so over-the-top, approaching a camp vision of Country, that it makes one wonder. Was she genuinely simpleminded to believe it was so very glamorous or was it a conscious exaggeration of a country girl’s idea of beauty, playing up the ‘innocence’ as a schtick, even a shameless display of pride against all the well-bred women with ‘finer’ taste? Let them laugh at her behind her back because she doesn’t care and doesn’t mind being what she is: Nouveau Riche Country Star who came from poverty. Like Don King showing off his blings. Maybe she was savvier than she let on, with a sensibility in some ways similar to the post-modernism of Andy Warhol , Michael Jackson, and madonna.
Wynette and Parton had similar socio-economic backgrounds, but their divergent developments as cultural icons demonstrate the power of personality and its relations to physical attributes. One senses Parton was born into an ideal environment, whereas Wynette was born into the wrong one, with her career serving as a subconscious way of rectifying the ‘unjust’ circumstances by infusing Country with poise and regality generally unknown to the genre. Incidentally, she is the only Country star I really care for. Later, there was Emmylou Harris, but at one of her concerts she nagged on the kind of folks who use the word ‘nigger’, and I had no use for her since. What’s the point of being a redneck if you can’t even say the n-word? It’s like telling rapper he can’t say ‘faggot’.
On the downside, Country’s longevity owed to a certain complacency, a lack of urgency and rather low expectations, which doesn’t do much for creativity. (Blues, though formally limited, dealt with grittier emotions, adding to its power and depth. Jazz, passive/aggressive in its flashy elusiveness, was bound to grow in slick sophistication. Pop thrives on novelty, the hit parade, and Rock was open to all ideas. In contrast, Country was too self-contented and self-contained to lurch forward unless dragged like a mule, but then, it wouldn’t have been Country if it had committed to ‘progress’.) Under such circumstances, it generally lacked the edge and daring of other musical forms.
In a way, one could say Blues is a kind of Black Country Music as it’s also steeped in rural origins(and never lost it), what with Negroes sitting around blowing a worn harmonica and strumming a broken guitar, lamenting about picking cotton all day while da honkey done sit around sipping lemonade.
Despite its rustic and humble origins, it soon left its mark on urban culture in the way that Country did not. Once white country folks became urban denizens, many of them became embarrassed to be associated with Hee Haw music, whereas many urban Negroes stuck with the Blues and related forms. Furthermore, many whites(and Jews), especially sophisticates, who wouldn’t be caught dead with Country Music, became fascinated with the Blues, not least in Great Britain.
Blues, though clearly seedier than Country, share some similarities. Though Bluesmen often flaunted their bad boy creds like a badge, regret and pathos clung to the music. Both Country and Blues are informed by the fear of God. Much of Country Music is God-fearing, and even the blasphemous in the Blues carries the Mark of Cain, i.e. it is aware of its fallenness and the heavy price down the line of the Faustian bargain: “I done gots my bucket of chicken but Devil’s gonna burn my ass in hell.”
For reasons that may be historical and/or racial, Blues music lacks the complacency of Country, lending it greater appeal to the urbanites who relish the element of challenge. There’s an element of struggle, within and without, the stuff of tears of rage than mere sentiment. Perhaps, this owed to black history of slavery and racial discrimination(and being called ‘nigger’ by ‘crackers’), whereby Negro sensibility got packed with its share of angst, which came in handy as musical coal.
On the other hand, the black musical form that comes closest to Country in feel is Reggae, and it too has an air of complacency, but it caught on even more among many white sophistos and hipsters, even serving as the basis of some of the biggest hits for Sting(and the Police) and Men-at-Work. Then, perhaps there’s a musical quality to black raciality that is appealing to whites. (Granted, Country and Reggae are complacent about different things. The former is sure of its creed, the latter of its weed.)
It’s rather odd that, despite rural whites and rural blacks being socio-economically closer to one another than either group to wealthy white urbanites and sophisticates, the latter developed a closer cultural affinity for blacks whose musical expression, especially in Blues-Jazz-Reggae(and Afro-Pop in Europe), serves as status markers for the ‘educated’ class. Take the movie BLUES BROTHERS with John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd. There’s a scene where the band does a gig at a Country Bar but, upbraided by the local-yokels, shifts from rhythm-n-blues to country-n-western. The thing is whereas black music(and community) is treated with sympathy and respect, the white clientele and Country culture are mainly spoofed and ridiculed(though not too nastily as in our ‘woke’ era), also partly true of NASHVILLE by Robert Altman. (The Nazis are the top villains in the movie, but if any people had a powerful musical culture, it was the Germans… before the ignominious fall. By the way, where’s the lie in the statement, “The Jew is using the black as muscle against you.”)