Lately, the radio in the car has been tuned to country music. Normally I listen to 80s music, but Kelly isn’t a fan of 80s music, and for some reason, we both enjoy country. This isn’t something I could openly admit a decade ago. Country music carries with it a set of stereotypes. But I realized two things: First, all music carries some kind of stereotype. And second: who cares what other people think? It’s not like I’m in high school anymore.
Kelly chose Sirius XM Channel 55, which on our tuner is the Garth Channel. The filler between songs is Brooks himself, talking about music. There’s something about his voice that is soothing. Perhaps it is the drawl. I’ve always found a Southern drawl endearing. To my surprise, the Garth Channel doesn’t play Garth Brooks music exclusively. It plays a wide variety of music, all of it stuff that Brooks likes himself. But there is a fair amount of country music and that’s why we listen.
Country music seems to come in two varieties: playful and nostalgic. Playful country puts me in a good mood. Songs often involve amusing word play (“I got a bucket list, I changed the B to an F…”) or, as Harry Chapin once said, involve either mothers or trucks. But still, they are fun. The nostalgic songs tend toward cliché. Mothers and sons; husbands and wives; fathers and sons. Think Conway Twitty’s “That’s My Job.” I’m not as fond of the nostalgic songs as I am the playful ones.
When I hear a good country song, it makes me think that of all the types of bars in existence, a country bar is the most fun. It’s true that I’ve been in Irish bars where songs get sung loudly by patrons. I’ve even sung a duet of “Clancy Lowered the Boom” in one such Irish pub. But there is also something somber about most bars that I don’t imagine exists in a country bar. (I have, to my recollection, only been in a true country bar once.)
My first exposure to country music came right around 1980. My parents had recently obtained the Kenny Rogers Greatest Hits album. It seemed to me they played it over and over again. That may not be the case. I can usually remember the words to a song after hearing it just once or twice, so it may have been me, singing the songs over and over again. Sometimes I got the words wrong. It was more than a decade later before I realized the words to the chorus of “Lucille” were not, “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille. Four hundred children, and a crop in the field.”
How can you not smile upon hearing a song like “Friends in Low Places”? How can you not sing along? It would be like staying mute when the crowd at Fenway sings “Sweet Caroline.” This is coming from a Yankees fan. Whenever I hear “Friend in Low Place” I imagine a bunch of friends and casual acquaintances filling some small local country bar, singing together, the aroma of spilled beer and sawdust filling the air. Everyone is momentarily happy. Isn’t that what music is all about?