Apache Tears

While making a mix for my brother the other day I listened again to this song from Johnny Cash’s album Bitter Tears: (Ballads of the American Indian).  Imagine a major modern country star writing and recording this song, let alone putting it on an album of other likeminded songs.  You simply can’t.  Johnny Cash is out on a limb, laying down a heavy trip in stark, clear terms.  When most people talk about getting back to real country music, most of them mean getting away from the Nashville created twang pop that is on the radio today.  I highly doubt many of them intend for to go this far.

Hoof prints and foot prints, deep ruts the wagons made
The victor and the loser came by here
No head stones, but these bones bring the mascalero death moans
See the smooth black nuggets by the thousands lying here
Petrified, but justified are these apache tears

Dead grass, dry roots, hunger crying in the night
Ghost of broken hearts and laws are here
And who saw the young squaw, they judged by their whiskey law
Tortured till she died of pain and fear
Where the soldiers lay her back, are the black apache tears

The young men, the old men, the guilty and the innocent
Bled red blood and chilled alike with fears
The red men, the white men, no fight ever took this land
So don’t raise the dust when you pass here
They’re sleeping and in my keeping are these apache tears

Regional Music and Political Differences

One of the reasons that America has had such a great musical tradition was that it is such a vast country with so many different kinds of people.  In the past you truly had a lot of regional music.  You would have different kinds of folk or blues music in different parts of the country.  The music in Tennessee would be very different than the music in Pennsylvania or Texas.  Many rural parts of the country were artistically somewhat cut off from the world at large so music was allowed to mutate differently in different regions.  Then on top of it these different styles would come to cities and each city would develop its own style based on the way styles combined. 

This is still true in different ways.  There are still regional differences, although they aren’t as pronounced.  Definitely different regions prefer certain types of music.  But I am talking about true regional music, and not just stylistic differences.  I am talking about how blues created in Mississippi differed greatly from Chicago blues, and not blues vs. country or whatever.

One reason you don’t see as much regional music is people have more access to other parts of the world.  You are only a YouTube video away from seeing what is going on in another city, for example.  In the past music traveled a much slower and less direct route. 

However, I am noticing that a lot of conservative areas feature the same bland corporate music that every other area does.  Corporate country is the most typical.  This is some of the worst stuff ever.  Music that is country in name only.  It is basically corporate pop music with a slight accent and maybe a fiddle in the background. 

I can’t help but feel that large national and multinational corporations are bleeding our culture dry.  This is the opposite of what I talked about in the last post.  I said we need to think outside of our own tribes and cultures.  In terms of making political decisions I think this is true.  But while large corporations are praying upon our cultural differences to divide and conquer, they are also crushing the differences that are worth keeping. 

We end up with a culture that is homogenized,  bland, and uninteresting, while at the same time we are divided politically where we can least afford to be.  Yes, both are possible, and both are happening.  Instead of the two canceling each other out, as one would suspect, the two compliment each other.  They reinforce the fear that people have of their traditions and culture being threatened, while shifting the blame for this from the large corporations to the “outsiders”. 

At least that is my take on it, for what it is worth.  Our country is turning into one giant strip mall, and we are being taught to kill each other over what store someone likes to shop in.

Country Grotesque

I had a fun day playing Frio Fest in Concan, Texas today.  While I was loading out I noticed some horrible form of modern country music coming out of a vehicle.  It suddenly dawned on me why this music was so bad.  This music is grotesque.  It is like some weird mutant or caricature where every feature is accentuated to the point of lacking any basis in reality.

The accent the singer was singing with wasn’t just southern twang; it was the most country accent that could possibly be devised.  Every instrument lacked subtlety of any kind.  It was like the Spinal Tap version of roots music.  It was bombastic and unoriginal.  Although I didn’t catch the lyrics I could bet a dirt road or a truck or a girl in a truck were involved.

This wasn’t fantasy music, where the idea is to create something that is part of some ecstatic dream world.  This was music that was selling itself as authentic, while being as far away from authenticity as possible.  It was completely absurd.  Either the people creating such pieces are insanely stupid or they are completely cynical.  Neither one bodes well.  This is music that is meant to be marketed to people that live a certain lifestyle.  Music, as I have said before, as lifestyle brand.  This brand features freedom as a large truck, a subjugated woman, and a dirt road that never ends.  It’s a fantasy that isn’t fantastic.  It’s the cretin hop, for real.

Media Diet and Rambling Thoughts

Huffington Post is still promoting the missing plane mystery as their headline.  How many days will this go on?!!!  I bet the cable news is having a field day with that too, though I don’t know for certain, as I don’t watch that shit!

I’ve been going on a media diet in recent years.  I cut out cable TV and I cut out radio.  These are two outdated forms that offer little if any value to one’s life.  When I listen or watch one of these formats I almost start believing my conspiracy theory friends that the media is manipulating us to make us dumber.  Songs riddled with clichés and Ken and Barbie dolls reading Teleprompters are running ramped over a demoralized public.

Did you see the singer form Hootie and the Blowfish has a country career now?  Who buys that stuff?  Who bought his Blowfish albums?  Kevin Russell calls this stuff golf rock.  Did anyone notice how metrosexual a lot of the male country stars are now?  I find that funny as their base is partially composed of redneck males who think they are tougher than the rest and are often homophobic.

I wish Hunter Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut and George Carlin were still alive.  They were of the rarified few that knew how to expose the great contradictions in our society.  This is an absurd country in many ways.  Our comedians have become our truth tellers and our newscasters have become our mindless entertainers.  Remember in a capitalist democracy we vote with our dollar a good deal of the time.  Support those things that bring value to your life and cut out on the fat!

Linda Scott, The Future, and Metro Sexual Cowboys

 

One of my favorite songs is I’ve Told Every Little Star by Linda Scott.  It is innocent joy captured through sound.  It is a song and a singer perfectly matched.  Listen to her voice when she sings the second line of the verses.  Plenty of other singers could sing that melody and it wouldn’t sound quite the same.  There is a good deal of alchemy going on in this song. 

Link to I’ve Told Every Little Star:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QYtyyKgqp0

Another one of my favorite songs is The Future by Leonard Cohen.  It’s at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.  Leonard Cohen’s song is full of imagery and ideas while Linda Scott’s is a simple love song, though not without its own wit.  Linda Scott sounds as if she is a teenager when she is singing this song and in fact she was.  Leonard Cohen was almost sixty when he sang The Future, but he actually sounds much older, as if the Bible were singing. 

Link to The Futurehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnaxvBsyigM

Although the emotions are very different, both songs make you feel something.  One song is sunshine and the other is a long cold winter setting in.  There are different seasons in life and you need songs for all of them. 

The country music that I posted last night exists at neither end of this spectrum nor anywhere in between.  There is no effervescent joy nor is there light being shown on dark truths.  Even to call it middle of the road would be a disservice to real music.  Things that are middle of the road, which fail to hit their emotional mark, are usually, at least aiming to connect with something other than your wallet.  I can’t help but wonder if the people in those country music videos are self aware enough to realize that they are nothing but the extension of a marketing campaign.  Maybe they are hopped up on cocaine, hanging out with beautiful women, and just going along for whatever short ride of notoriety that they have been lucky enough to stumble upon, fully aware of the foolishness they are unleashing.  Maybe they believe their own bullshit.  It’s hard to tell.  I don’t wish to examine that world long enough to find out.  In fact, after this post, hopefully I will never think or write about such meaningless gibberish again. 

Is it really the fault of these metro sexual cowboys anyway?  I would say that it is, but only up to a point.  In the days of fading career prospects and rampant militarism, who wouldn’t want to be a millionaire if only for a moment?  Maybe they should take their drug addled run in the sun before the whole deal goes down.  There are more important questions.  Who are the people that are funding these advertisements that try to hide in the shape of songs?  Also, has a large section of the American Public been so beaten down, defeated, and brainwashed, that this stuff actually sounds like music to them?  Something’s happening here. 

Things are gonna slide, slide in all directions
Won’t be nothing
You can measure anymore

– Leonard Cohen, The Future

 

Johnny Cash and Bitter Tears

I grew up loving Johnny Cash.  I bought many of his albums and read his autobiography.  As snotty as this may sound to declare, I liked him before the Rick Rubin produced “comeback” albums, although I really like those albums, especially the first one.  I remember my mom telling me that my grandfather liked him and because of that I checked him out.  The first album of his that I got was Classic Cash.   It was a 1988 album that was actually rerecordings of many of his famous songs.  When I listen now I realize that the production and arrangements on that album are dated and can’t touch the originals, although no production foul could ever destroy THOSE songs and THAT voice.

I remember being tremendously sad when he died.  I remember exactly where I was.  I was driving through Philadelphia after a night of intense partying and saw it in the morning paper at a gas station.  Only the deaths of Joey Ramone and Lou Reed hit me as hard as far as musicians are concerned.

However, shortly after he died I found that I had to get away from him for awhile.  It wasn’t his fault.  If anything it was my weakness.  But he became a shorthand for rebellion without anyone actually having to rebel against anything.  People started name dropping Johnny Cash in a way that often just associated him with nothing but drinking and hell raising.  I was drunk a good deal of the time back then and even I could see through this bullshit.  He was someone that often sang for the downtrodden and marginalized.  Drinking and hell raising were just a side show for him.  Lot’s of country stars can sing about whiskey, but not many could write songs as powerful as Drive On or sing a song like The Ballad of Ira Hayes with such authority and compassion.  So while his albums never left my collection and he was always pulled out from time to time, it wasn’t as often as it once was.  The man that had been so complex in life had become so simple in death.  In reality nothing about him had changed, but I allowed the influence of others’ perceptions to infect my mind.

It was only in recent years when I could return to his music without it unfortunately bringing up images of trust fund country bands in hopelessly imitative honkey tonks.  I was gun shy for too long.  Shame on me.  In the last few years I have been rediscovering what he meant to me growing up.

I’ve been writing on here about Buffy Sainte-Marie lately as I have just become infatuated with her.  On youtube I found a clip of her singing a song called Custer with Johnny Cash on The Johnny Cash Show.  The song is one that he recorded for his album Bitter Tears, which is a whole theme album dealing with the plight of Native Americans.  Imagine many of today’s country stars.  Now imagine any of them singing the line, “he killed children, dogs, and women” about an American general, even one long since shamed and dead.   Sorry I went away for so long Johnny.  You were right there where you always were, and where you always will be, a mountain undiminished.

Custer

Now I will tell you buster that I ain’t a fan of Custer
And the General he don’t ride well anymore
To some he was a hero but to me his score was zero
And the General he don’t ride well anymore
Now Custer done his fightin’ without too much excitin’
And the General he don’t ride well anymore
General Custer come in pumpin’ when the men were out a huntin’
But the General he don’t ride well anymore
With victories he was swimmin’ he killed children dogs and women
But the General he don’t ride well anymore
Crazy Horse sent out the call to Sitting Bull and Gall
And the General he don’t ride well anymore
Now Custer split his men well he won’t do that again
Cause the General he don’t ride well anymore
Twelve thousand warriors waited they were unanticipated
And the General he don’t ride well anymore
It’s not called an Indian victory but a bloody massacre
And the General he don’t ride well anymore
There might have been more enthusin’ if us Indians had been losin’
But the General he don’t ride well anymore
General George A.Custer oh his yellow hair had lustre
But the General he don’t ride well anymore
For now the General’s silent he got barbered violent
And the General he don’t ride well anymore
Oh the General he don’t ride well anymore

Fake Rebellion

I have a very unscientific theory that I would like to throw at you.  Why in the last few decades has there been such a rise in the popularity of rap and Nashville country?  I say that these are two forms of music that are unafraid of the product placement.  Rock N Roll should be in some part about rebellion against the status quo.  In the 60’s it was part of the counter culture.  I would bet as companies learned more and more how to market music and how to control it they didn’t want too many people queering their hustle. 

     Now I am being lazy and lumping in all rap and modern country together.  There are always exceptions to the rules.  I am talking about the kind that gets played on the radio all of the time.  Nor is this to say that if this music helps you get through a day of daily drudgery there is anything wrong with it.  If it floats your boat have at it.  Just realize what you are being sold. 

     These two forms sell what I call fake rebellion.  There may be songs that involve shooting guns, objectifying women, being outlaws, etc.  However, neither of these forms challenges the dominant power structures in our society.  Those would be consumerism and religion.  You can take your drugs, drink your beer, and get laid, but just keep shopping and don’t think too hard about what’s keeping you at your current class status. 

     In rap it’s pretty obvious.  No other form of music has so glorified getting rich and owning things.  There are obvious examples of this not being the case.  From back in my day you had Public Enemy, whose records still ring with righteous anger.  But a lot of this music is egocentric music that while on the surface appears to be dangerous, really just reinforces the current economic model. 

     Nashville country, on the other hand is not far behind in songs featuring product placement.  I bet I could flip on a mainstream country station right now and within the hour hear a song that not only mentions a truck, but what brand.  Country music also often plays upon tribal affiliations.  It might make you feel like a rebel and an outlaw, but you are a certain kind of rebel and outlaw that is exactly like millions of other rebels and outlaws.  So in reality, you are not that much of a rebel or an outlaw.  You are just wearing a costume that helps you belong to a group that you feel comfortable in. 

     I also like to say that Karl Marx, not to be confused with Richard Marx, got it wrong.  Nashville country music is the opiate of the masses.  It let’s people feel a sense of identity and belonging even if they don’t’ have a pot to piss in.  It never questions who is fucking them in the ass. 

     Music doesn’t have to make you think.  But it should at least make you feel something strongly.  Emotions are raw and abstract and powerful things.  But I question the value of anything that makes you feel like a rebel for a night, and a fool for a lifetime.