I, Too, Came to Like Country Music

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2015-03-31 – When I read about Ted Cruz’s conversion to country music, I thought: “Hey! Me too!” I can’t date my conversion to 9/11, like he did, but my change of heart came around the same time. I’m guessing it might have started in the nineties, but it was a gradual thing for me. Honestly, the change continues today, but I’ll get to that later.

Before the change, I tended to pigeonhole music. I came late to rock and roll—that was maybe the seventies (probably becauses I didn’t get to college until 1969). Classical music came around the same time as did folk and bluegrass. Folk and bluegrass were undoubtedly influenced by the fact that I had a guitar and a banjo and had a great time learning how to play a few tunes. Classical was also influenced by my attempts at a few sonatas on the piano. Jazz came later when I moved to Chicago and had access to jazz radio. I came to love world music the same way.

Opera was out, though, as was country music. . . . But I couldn’t hold onto my loathing.

Opera was the first to creep into my proto-playlist. (We didn’t have playlists in those days, but you know what I mean.) A cousin of mine became a conductor of a local opera company and I became a captive audience. The only thing was: I liked it.

No, I don’t like all opera. I think a lot of opera’s are too long. And long recitative is totally boring to me and undermines the drama of the story (if there is any). They talk in musicals, for heaven’s sake. And I like the tunes.

Country was a little tougher. My mental picture of country was totally political and classist—though probably thoughtlessly so. It conjured up Tammy Wynette song “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and all the twangy heartbreak songs and it made me cringe.

But friends and family liked country and I would listen when I visited them. And I slowly realized two things. Country was a lot more than the stereotypes I had thought defined the genre. And some of the music I already liked (bluegrass, the Allmans, Marshall Tucker Band, the Eagles, Willie Nelson, and so on) were already pretty much in the country tradition.

Unlike Ted Cruz, I still dig rock and roll music.

Of course, there are some tunes that really stink. Same with opera. Same with country.

But great music is great music. Gets my foot tapping. Brings a tear to my eyes. Regardless of the label you attach to it.

* * *

Much of this was unconscious, to tell the truth. We are immersed in music. Radio, TV, and records when I was young. Digital media now. So many of the tunes I have running through my head don’t have titles or genres or even artist names attached to them. I only learned fairly late that many of my favorite songs were played by a guy named Eric Clapton. More recently, I came to the same realization about Fleetwood Mac. Who know what wonderful music still remains anonymous in my head.

Fortunately, the digital world is helping me to discover the artists who created the “soundtrack of my life” (as they say). I just tell Pandora the few names I do know and Pandora brings me all sorts of “similar” songs that I love and I get to learn their names. Finally.

Currently on Pandora I have channels for jazz, folk, classical, klezmer, Christmas, blues, opera, musical theater, country, world beat, and rock. I usually play them on shuffle. That sometimes makes for some interesting combinations. Right now I’m listening to “Can’t You See?” by the Marshall Tucker Band. Before that was “Shall We Dance” from the musical “The King and I.” Before that was “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin.

You’d never get that on a genre radio station.

And I get to click thumbs up or thumbs down on each song (not on an entire genre). Most of my votes are thumbs up. (I clicked thumbs up on two of these three.) The more songs I discover, the more thumbs up. When I said at the beginning that I am still discovering country music, this is how it happens.

* * *

I do get Ted Cruz’s feeling, though. We do get hung up in genres. All of us. I had trouble with country music for a time. More recently it was rap. I had a hard time with the violence and misogyny in a lot of the rap “music” I heard. And I put the word “music” in quotes because that’s how I felt about it.

But like all music, there are good songs and bad songs in every genre. And I’m slowly coming around to dropping the sneer quotes when I think about rap. I’ve heard songs by Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar that I like pretty well. The truth is, I didn’t go looking for them. Chance went to my son Cal’s high school, so my boys knew about him pretty early. My son Nat’s a big fan and I think he’s writing a paper on Chance for one of his classes. Kendrick Lamar appeared as the last musical guest on the Colbert Report, one of my favorite shows.

And, as much as I hate to admit it, I liked Kanye on the SNL 40th Anniversary Show much better than Paul McCartney and Paul Simon—who are two of my favorites. You never know what you are going to like if you keep your ears open.

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