June 3, 2008

City Boy, Country Man


So, how was your trip?

I’ve been hearing that a lot since I returned from my business trip to Nashville, Tennessee. I’d like to think that my co-workers missed my company and were glad to see me back; but, judging from the amount of work on my desk, and from the deluge of telephone calls for administrative support I’ve answered, it appears that I was missed for other reasons. My trip went well, but it was no vacation, and it is great to be home.

Of course, no business trip would be complete without some sight seeing. The hotel and convention center where we stayed is less than one half mile from The Grand Ole Opry. The original site for the Opry was Ryman Auditorium, also located in Nashville. Sometime in the 1970’s the Opry moved to its current location and the show is as popular as ever. My point here is not to talk about the history of the radio program, or the many legendary performers who graced the stages of both the present day Opry House or the Ryman Auditorium. I’d like to make it clear that for one night, for a few blessed hours, I felt truly American.

Country music is alien to many New Yorker’s ears; and, attempts to bring country music to the Big Apple and to Long Island have either failed or been poorly received. There were "fad" cowboy bars in the 1980’s with folks riding mechanical bulls and wearing cowboy hats; but, those venues have fallen by the wayside. My place of birth, my home town, was never a bastion for die-hard country music fans.

Allow me to clarify by saying that you’ll find few people in my neck of the woods to besmirch country music. And, you’d be surprised to discover that Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings are respected names in many northern households. Yet, most country music stars are not part of the culture, and are not easily recognized by typical Long Islanders.

The Grand Ole Opry show I attended included a performance by a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. I’m ashamed to admit that I never heard of Little Jimmy Dickens, and I vaguely remember the TV show “Hee Haw” from the 1970’s which he appeared on several times. Another singer, Jean Shepard, sang and told jokes and was well received; yet I couldn’t pick her out of a line-up. Jean Shepard has been singing since the 1950’s and is one of country music’s legendary stars.

How is it that I’ve missed so much in my own country’s culture? As a kid growing up on the south shore of Long Island, much of what I listened to was British music. My generation was weaned on Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, and the list goes on. These bands are so ingrained in the culture of white, suburban kids from my youth and geographical area, that the fact that they are English musicians has long since been erased from the collective zeitgeist of my peers. These rock bands provided music to get drunk by, pick up girls, race cars, and skip school. Jimmy Page inspired generations of kids to become guitar heroes, just like him. Albums produced by our English "cousins" across the pond marked periods of my life when I first discovered girls, got my driver’s license, graduated high school, and fell in love.

The rest of my fellow citizens had different experiences while absorbing native music and sharing an indigenous musical genre. The songs they listened to reflected growing up on this continent, telling a native story, and they nurtured home grown legends. My visit to the Opry proved that to me; and, I felt as though I’d found the key to a vault filled with treasure, and that the key was in my hip pocket all along.

I have no regrets about my love of British rock; and, I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything. However, I have the time now to listen with an open mind and a new appreciation for my fellow Americans as they sing about life, love, happiness, tragedy, and about America herself. To the Grand Ole Opry, thanks for bringing me home.

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23 comments:

Bob Johnson said...

I love your stories Mike, Little Jimmy Dickens, I remember him well, my Dad was a country fan from way back when, him and his friends would get together every weekend and play their musical instruments, always country music on the agenda, that's how I developed I love for the genre, my older brother and friends the beatles, and then me with the zep and pink floyd.

It is cool you discovered country music.

The Supplicant said...

Hi Mike

Excellent. Nice to see a new post. Welcome back! I'm glad you had a successful, safe and productive trip. Little Jimmy Dickens? Never heard of him. Like you I grew up listening to Led Zep, ALice Cooper. Rollin Stones...even (get this) Paul Revere and the Raiders LOL. I was also strongly influenced by the French Canadian rock scene (Beau Dommage, Seguin) and the only kind of music allowed in the house when my father was around was classical. A wide variety.

Mike, this is where we have to disagree. The old proverbial line in the sand so to speak. I cannot, just cannot enjoy (better word is stand) country music. I will give you this one exception ... Johnny Cash. However, I'm sorry my friend. There's something about the old cryin' in my beer, the dog left me, good ol' boys thing I just can't get my head around. Take for example the following lyrics from a recent Willy Nelson song:

We never really had a chance
We never really had a chance at all
I was carrying more luggage
Than U-haul truck could haul

And I've been looking in the mirror
Lying like a dog
Supposed to be so easy
Like falling off a log
And I started thinking
Thinking about things that might have been..


*Shudder

You my friend are a better man than me. It's great that you've been able to open your mind and truly find an appreciation for this kind of music. You are by far much more mature in your willingness to enrich your musical tastes than I am. Me? I think I'll go listen to my Led Zeppelin II CD now. :-)

Well done Mike on another great post.

~JD

Paul Burman said...

It's always interesting, the way our tastes are shaped and how, hopefully, we can become receptive to new ideas and influences at different stages of our life.

Like The Supplicant, I've never settled easily into Country, although there are some tremendous exceptions, especially where Country almost blends with Blues, but your comments about the British rock bands ... well, you brought it all flooding back: sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll! Yeah!

How wonderfully evocative music can be.

Poetikat said...

I'm loving this post, Mike!

"My generation was weaned on Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, and the list goes on."

Like you, I was exposed to these bands, though my taste leaned more to the progressive Genesis, Supertramp and Styx. It is only now that I am coming to appreciate the stylings of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd (mainly through my husband's influence).

Our house was always filled with Classical music though, as a teen I was listening to Top 40 countdowns (and writing out the lyrics). However, at one point in my early 20s I started to gravitate to my roots - Irish/Gaelic music in the form of a band called Clannad, Eastern Canadian bands like The Rankin Family and The Barra McNeils, but somewhere along the line ( I think it was in a small bar in Westport Ontario) I heard a song called, "Forever and Ever, Amen". It was the gentle, twangy tones of Randy Travis - and I was hooked! I went through an intense Country Music phase - went to concerts by Emmylou Harris and Dwight Yoakam and bought as much CM as possible.

I disagree with JD about the validity of country music lyrics. There is a sense of humour in Country songs that is unmatched in any other genre. At one point, I even wanted to start a band called, The Nashville Aliens (I was a post-punk dance-clubber, you see) and I even had the title for our first album: Give 'em Enough Rope!

I still love Country Music (particularly Johnny Cash (I recommend the album "Murder")and I would have to say that it has roots in so many of our music origins. If you have not seen the movie, SongCatcher about the early attempts to capture American folk music on gramophone - please seek it out and watch it. I'm sure you 'll enjoy it.

Oh, there I've run off again. Sorry - but you always inspire the verbosity in me.

I love your articulations.

Kat

Jack Payne said...

Gosh, Mike, I read all this stuff and feel extraordinarily dated.

None of the music mentioned here grabs me at all. I am a jazz nut, always have been, always will be.
To me, Maynard Fersuson taking off, hitting unbelievable high notes all over the place on his trumpet--on Gonna Fly Now--is enough for me.

Mike French said...

I'm like you Mike, Country Music just passed me by I'm afraid.

When I hear it on the radio, it's like opera or classical music has come on. I don't mind it - but I'd rather flick the cd player on.

Now Pink Floyd - that's part of my world. As a kid I could relate to the angst in some of their stuff and it just picked me up and took me into another world.

With Country I just stand looking at the other world, but feel no desire to enter in.

Now where is that Dark Side cd?

The Supplicant said...

Hey Mike

There goes Kat with the undefinable need to disagree with everything I say lately. Country music funny she says? Really Kat? You bet. ;-)

~JD

Poetikat said...

Surely, you jest, JD!

I was thinking about this at 2:00 A.M. and I really feel I was doing Country Music an injustice by merely slotting it as "humour music". It does plumb the depths of the tortured soul, on occasion. (Again, I urge you to have a listen to Cash's "Murder".)

Also, I have given my own roots short shrift, in that the Irish have in fact penned a number of hilarious songs and ditties, but then again, I think they were the originators of CM, so it's all relative. Ha ha.

Kat

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Bob,
it sounds like you had a really good time listening to your dad and his pals playing good music for you. I must clarify in saying that while I want to hear more country, I am sticking with the older guys like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash. I do not see myself wandering around with a cowboy hat or uttering the phrase "Yeee Haa!" any time soon. However, any regular readr of my blog knows, or at least read at some point that while I was raised on Rock, my tastes have gravitated to fuson jazz as an adule. It's difficult to reconcile country music agains the blazing hot trumptet of a man like Randy Brecker. Thanks Bob. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi JD,
I am finding it funny, the responses here to my humble post. I cannot say that I will like all of country music. But, just read my response to Bob (above) and see what I mean. There is a certain amount of cornines to country, and it was on display at the Opry. I left there beliveing that they artists who perform knew exactly what they were doing and sang some of there sillier songs with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. Some of the newer artist (new country) do not seem to get the joke and come out with some pretty sappy, maudlin, and ultimatley bad country music. I am not saying all of them, or even a majority of new country artists. still, I have selected some of the older country artists to test my palate with, and so far, so good. But, like I said to Bob, no one will ever erase my love of funky, fusion jazz. Thanks JD! -Mike.

BTW- You really made me laugh with your comment.

"However, I'm sorry my friend. There's something about the old cryin' in my beer, the dog left me, good ol' boys thing I just can't get my head around."

You're a funny guy JD. I mean that as a compliment. (shudder) lol.
BTW BTW- (LOL) I have ALL of Led Zeppelin on CD...
-Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

P.S. JD- I meant to say "corny-ness" lol -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Paul,

"Like The Supplicant, I've never settled easily into Country, although there are some tremendous exceptions, especially where Country almost blends with Blues..."

Yeah, I can definitely say that when country is mixed with the blues you can hear some rockin' songs. When we were in Nashville, my colleagues and I went to a bar called "Jack Daniels" owned by the whiskey company of the same name. There was a band there who played that style of music and it was cool to hear it live. I am not so sure that I would have loved it if I heard it on the radio or on CD, but they were tight and I always add an extra star to any perfomance in a live setting. Of course, the consensus here is clear, long live British rock!
Also, I think I expressed my love of fusion-funk jazz too, right? lol. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

hi Poetikat,
I don't want to step into the midle of you and JD on this one...lol. But, I have a small appreciation for classical (Beethoven Mozart, and Holst) but I want to broaden my horizons a bit and hear some of the older country form the legends themsleves. BTW, I think Ireland is the home of country music...

"Also, I have given my own roots short shrift, in that the Irish have in fact penned a number of hilarious songs and ditties, but then again, I think they were the originators of CM, so it's all relative."

...including England, Scotland, and even Germany, as immigrants who settled the south were largely European and their musical styles mixed and became what it is today. I am glad you nejoyed this one and I am trying to keep it light here for a while as I tend to get into some depressing topics, lol. Thanks Kat. -Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Jack,
Thanks for stopping by. As I stated in some of my responses above, I've mentioned in two or three blog posts already that I am a huge fuson jazz fan and I have been for most of my adule life. I was turned on to it as a kid by my older brother while I was still rocking out to Led Zepplein and the like. But, when I grew up, I turned to Jazz. I'll always love my roots, but Jazz is my passion. With this post, I wanted to express my desire to broaden my horizons and appreciate a musical genre which was always available to me. Thanks for reading Jack. I appreciate it. -Mike.

The Supplicant said...

LOL ...Mike I'm glad to see you are not yet lost. I hope in the repertoire of your music you have some Black Sabbath CD's... LOL

I totally and utterly disagree with Kat. Surely I jest? LOL

After living with having country music forced down my throat by an X for many years I KNOW country inside and out. Like I said in my original comment...Johnny Cash is the only exception to the rule..so that is the only point Kat and I will agree on.

I never once said it was humor music. I should have made myself clearer. The lyrics of many country stars (especially the old stuff) are tantamount to bordering on horrible...like the pop music the presently plays on the airwaves.

And if Irish music is considered the originators of CM then that would explain my distaste for that kind of music as well.

But then again, we are all entitled to our opinions and no amount of cajoling, teasing, or ridiculing will get me to change my mind: I don't like country music...period.

HA HA ;-)

This is a struggle of light over darkness. I'll pull you back buddy! Wait for me!


~JD

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Mike,
"Now Pink Floyd - that's part of my world. As a kid I could relate to the angst in some of their stuff and it just picked me up and took me into another world.

We can talk about Pink Floyd all day my man. A long time ago I was a projectionist in a movie theatre and we played "The wall" and "Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii" for the Saturday midnight show for over a year. I watched every showing from the projection booth, and rocked out the each time.

Oh yeah, "The Dark Side of the Moon"...I have some memories to go with that one as well...I wonder what ever happened to that girl I used to date when...hee hee. That one's private mate, my wife reads this blog, lol. Thanks Mike M1, and fellow Wanderer. -Mike M2

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi JD,
I absolutely love the strength of your emotions here, lol. Black Sabbath indeed, rocks. I have a metal streak in me to. But, at my age I would like to stretch out a bit and see what is out there. Like I said to a few others here, i'm going to stick with the older gents of country. I really do not know where country originated originally, lol, except to say that it is from down south in the US where they are still fighting the Civil war. Trust me. I get a rude comment whenever i am down there and in the last few years it has been often. I want to ask one of these confederate flag wavers one day "What exactly makes you so devoted to a direction?" You know what I am saying?

Anyway, the music conversation has provoked some controversy, and I'm cool with that as it is all in good fun. I think you'll find our musical tatses to be more alike than not, JD. I'm a kid from lower-middle class, blue collar, Long Island. The closest we came to country in those days were "southern" bands like "Lynyrd Skynyrd," "Charlie Daniels" (I'd rather get kicked in the crotch than listen to him, lol) and "Molly Hatchet." These were cross over bands and the pot heads in my town lied them, though Skynrd rocks. But, my love of metal and Britsh rock remains latent as i still love my fuson Jazz and I am going to get my feet wet a bit with the senior country music legends. Thanks JD. You're always welcome to disagree with anything I say. That's what makes friendship work, my man. -Mike.

Swubird said...

Mr. Grudge:

This is a very nice article.

I love all kinds of music, but I grew up on country and western, so I am kind of hard wired for people like Johnny Cash. When I'm driving I like opera. It soothes my nerves. About the only music I don't like is hip hop and hard rock.

Your article made me think about the simple pleasures in life that are all around us every day - even in the air waves. I'm glad to be an American.

Happy trails.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Swubird,

"About the only music I don't like is hip hop and hard rock."

I think we can both agree that we don't ike hip hop. Thanks Swubird, I appreciate you reading this post. -Mike.

Max said...

Hello Mike!

Very interesting post! I must say that I love, I just love British music! However the same can't be said about country music (I could well be from NY lol)! On the other hand my mom is a huge fan of country...which is quite shocking for me and my brother lol!

I tried to understand this genre of music, but I completely failed! I listen to jazz, R&B (back in my teens I used to listen to a lot of hip hop and Rap, techno); Opera, classic music, Brit pop; French and Italian music...you name it...but country: nope (although I admit there may be one two singers that caught my attention - like Shanya Twain and some others).

But anyway; welcome back home (I might be late for this one though)!! And I am glad you are re-discovering your country and culture :D!

Cheers

Sean Stone said...

"I have the time now to listen with an open mind and a new appreciation for my fellow Americans as they sing about life, love, happiness, tragedy, and about America herself."

Nicely done. I'm a fan of country music because of the lyrics. Its stories embody those very things you mentioned. Sometimes, cheerful, other times melancholy, but all in all, captivating. To me, at least.

I've read your blog a few times but never left a comment until now.

= (

= )

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Max,

"Very interesting post! I must say that I love, I just love British music! However the same can't be said about country music (I could well be from NY lol)!"

The secret is that anyone who moves to NY becomes a New Yorker, lol. But, I know what you mean. Country music is not for anyone, and it is a force of nature that kids don't listen to what their parents listen to. Thanks Max.
-Mike.

Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Sean,
Welcome to my humble blog.

"Nicely done. I'm a fan of country music because of the lyrics. Its stories embody those very things you mentioned. Sometimes, cheerful, other times melancholy, but all in all, captivating. To me, at least."

I agree, and the man who told stories the best (I think) was Johnny Cash. Thanks Sean.
-Mike.