Monday, August 22, 2011

On prejudice against country music

The Independent's pop music critic Simon Price excuses his surprise at learning that the country and western artist Brad Paisley sold out the O2 arena by saying 'he operates in a genre which still dare not speak its name in sophisticated company.' He adds:

The one thing, in the great tribal Taste Wars of the Eighties, that everyone could agree on was that country-and-western was rubbish. Even its main British proponent had to sneak past the defences by giving himself the self-consciously wacky name Hank Wangford.

While it's certainly the case that people who should know better unthinkingly mock country music, the above comment is testament more to the author's ignorance than anything else. While there was plenty of cheesy and naff country music around in the 1980s that was only part of the story. Elvis Costello recorded an album of country and western standards that spawned hit singles. Bands like Jason and the Scorchers and the Long Ryders fused country and punk influences in a way that was just as reverential to the former as the latter. And Paisley Underground bands such as REM, while hardly belonging in the country section of record shops, were clearly influenced by country music traditions.
If all of the above don't qualify as country, there were plenty of respected artists around who did. Steve Earle (see youtube link) was a kind of country-and-western Bruce Springsteen. Dwight Yoakam revived and reinvented traditional, hard-core country, while Rosanne Cash, kd lang and Nanci Griffith each emerged as serious songwriters working within a country-and-western tradition.
Simon Price's comment is a bit like saying all rock music is naff and citing the oeuvre of Cliff Richard as proof.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good article.

I'm a secret fan, but Country has lots of social stigmatism from it's perceived associations. For many, it evokes The Dukes Of Hazzard, The South, the KKK; a white's only culture that dominates areas of America with low educational standards. Charley Pride aside (who had to joke about his "permanent tan" at gigs), it has the highest level of racial purity of any musical movement in the last 100 years, which is impressive considering factors such as Leadbelly, geography, huge sales figures and broad media representation.

Whilst there are many hints of things that could buck this trend, they never seem to quite break through. In a scene where the Dixie Chicks are controversial, I can't see this changing any time soon.

If country music is perturbed regarding these issues, is it not natural for others to question what remain a highly dubious artform?