Sunday, August 22, 2004


I’ve never understood the appeal of country music. It’s an odd genre that, to my ear, sounds like a kitschy form of blues music performed by people wholly lacking a bluesman’s talent and soulfulness. Yet there are many who not only love country music, but view it as part and parcel of the American identity; indeed as American as Al Capone, corn dogs, and meter-wide buttocks.

These aficionados would be quick point out that neither my background nor upbringing is compatible with an understanding – let alone an appreciation – of country music. And they may have a point. It’s certainly true that I’ve never owned a hound dog or pick-up truck. The closest thing to grits in my mother’s pantry while growing up was apple and cinnamon flavored Instant Cream of Wheat. I’ve never ridden a mechanical bull, eaten ‘possum, used the phrase “thank you kindly ma’am” in a sentence, or shot a man after drinking too much whiskey in a honky tonk.

Yet while I might concede that Loretta Lynn and I share little in the way of a common upbringing, I do not agree that I am somehow “hard-wired” to dislike country music. I am, after all, slightly bow-legged. I’ve had a deep appreciation for Dolly Parton’s rack since the age of 14. And I do like the song that’s played at the end of each episode of “The Benny Hill Show;” which, I’m told, was recorded by a famous Nashville saxophonist named “Socks” or “Boots” or something foot-related.

Regardless of the reasons, I haven’t exactly lamented the dearth of country music in my life since moving to Spain nearly five years ago. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of it until one night last month when I was listening to Radio Nacional de España (Spanish National Radio).

RNE has a number of radio channels catering to different listener tastes. Its “Radio 3” channel broadcasts an eclectic musical mix – ranging from hip-hop to Chicago blues to late 60’s psychedelic rock – that is targeted toward the “under 45” age group. It’s a fantastic channel that I listen to almost exclusively during and after working hours. Despites its many merits, however, Radio 3’s eclectic format has a dark side.

Radio 3 plays an hour of country music at 7am and 7pm every Saturday and Sunday. I discovered this program quite by accident while laying ceramic tiles around my house last month. My first reaction to hearing a twangy steel guitar was, predictably, to lunge for the radio’s tuning knob. But I resisted the urge – partially because it had been years since I last heard a country song; partially because my hands were covered with cement – and decided to simply tough it out during the next 60 minutes.

I’m glad that I did. As I continued laying tiles and listening to the preposterous lyrics of these songs, it dawned on me that country music – if approached with the proper frame of mind – can be remarkably entertaining; albeit in the same cheesy way that a dashboard-mounted hula doll or Christmas light-studded reproduction of DaVinci’s Last Supper can be entertaining.

But talk is cheap, and I wanted to provide you – the reader – with concrete proof to support this bold statement. I therefore stiffened my jaw and tuned in to today’s broadcast of the Radio 3 country music hour. Listed below are the plot lines of all the songs played:
First Song: A man gets back together with his woman. Miraculously, his “tears stop fallin’.”

Second Song: A man declares that if he can win back his woman’s love, he’d be very happy. He’d make her very happy, too. He then goes on to grovel for her love for another two minutes and twenty-five seconds until the song ends.

Third Song: A woman recounts a lengthy list of things she would do if she could just see her man’s face one more time.

Fourth Song: A gunfighter named “Pancho” gets shot to death in the Mexican desert. His killer is a washed-up singer from Ohio named “Lefty.”

Fifth Song: A man has “sweet dreams” about his woman every night. He can’t forget her; he can’t hate her. The problem is, however, that she clearly doesn’t love him. The man knows this, and even admits that she’ll never “wear [his] name.” Yet those sweet dreams about her keep coming.

Sixth Song: Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors.” OK, OK…everyone knows this song. And I must admit that – rack or no rack – it’s a great song. I’ll therefore dispense with the sarcasm and move on to the next.

Seventh Song: Unfortunately, not quite in the same league as “Coat of Many Colors.” A woman bemoans her man’s leaving. You see, loving him “was a one-way street.” She therefore vows to go out and find more men on Saturday nights, but not put her heart into any of them. In her own words, “It’s gonna be easy from now on.” Perhaps she should be singing, “I’m gonna be easy from now on.”

Eighth Song: A woman reminisces about the good times she had with her brother and sister in bygone days. They used to “dance the night away” and “walk by the river,” and her brother “knows where all the best bars are.” By the way, I should point out that not a single stanza of this song rhymed with another.

Ninth Song: A man and his woman “Maggie” moved west. Two months later, Maggie left him. But the man doesn’t care, because “it’s midnight and [he’s] got two more bottles of wine.”

Tenth Song: A man informs that “even cowgirls get the blues”…and “sometimes they don’t know what to do”…and “sometimes they get this feeling like she’s [sic] too far gone”…and they spend many nights on the road “staring at motel ceilings.” I’m not sure what to make of that last statement.

Final Song: I listened to this song twice and, quite frankly, found it incomprehensible. There was some talk during the chorus of “rolling on” to something or somewhere, but that’s all I could extract from it. I then rewound the cassette and listened to “Coat of Many Colors” again, so as not to leave with a bitter taste in my mouth.
Do you see what I mean? Each song (except for the last one) is like a miniature soap opera. Granted, I’m referring to one of those melodramatic South American soap operas, but I intend this as a complement nonetheless.

If you were to sit and concentrate – really concentrate – on the message and texture of country music lyrics, you’d probably find yourself roaring with laughter and feeling better about the general state of your own life. Yes, country music lyrics can be therapeutic.

It’s just a damn shame that they don’t put those lyrics to better music.


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