Merle, Dolly and The Boys
A while back the gentleman behind the counter at Sender’s Market in Mt. Ranch, asked me about my T-Shirt. I explained that it was just the logo for an L.A. punk band. “There’s only two kinds of music for me,” he said, “country and western.” I countered with, “And today it is neither.” We both chuckled. That glow lasted until I walked by a small group of men at the front door agreed that they wanted “my country back.” I almost asked if they were talking about music or politics but my shirt already put me firmly in the enemy’s camp so I drove home instead.
Country music was a staple in my house. My dad could mimic Hank Williams, Sr., Little Jimmy Dickens, Ferlin Husky and Ernest Tubb with the best of them. He could also honky tonk harder than most of them. Too often our poor family was serenaded at 2:30 A.M. after the bars closed for the night. Polarized by dad’s passion for C&W and the gospel music which my mom preferred to the exclusion of all others, I grew up desperate for an alternate sound.
I was about twelve when I found out there were other forms of music besides those guys in cowboy hats, ladies in rhinestones and those singing hymns from the pulpit. Do you recall Bill Haley counting down “One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock,” and then the Pow as the Comets’ drummer rapped his snare after Haley yelled out “Rock.” With apologies to Mr. Frost, after that first iconic rock and roll song, I chose the path less traveled. It was, of course, a pretty noisy route but that was part of the fun.
We’ve all heard the term “country” a lot in this century. The men at Sender’s seemed to see the U.S. as a possession that had been taken away from them. I almost asked them to a show me their deeds but that would have been futile and possibly painful. They likely would pointed me towards our Constitution and the Bill of Rights but I’ve yet to read one word in either document that bequeaths the country to any given group. To the contrary; both are very inclusive, at least in theory. No ownership is implied except in the phrase “We, the people.” Still, love of country and country music seems to imply that they are two sides of the same coin. I disagree.
Recently I read a Merle Haggard quote that I wished I had heard about before my trip to Mt. Ranch. Merle, the country music legend, said “It’s criminal what they are doing to President Obama.” Merle went on to gush about how humble and kind Obama had been during his visit to the White House. This is light years away from the time Charlie Pride was on The Opry and a performer in the wings asked “who’s the n….r?” His friend supposedly answered with “Why, that ain’t no N…r, that there’s Charlie Pride.”
In a recent Daily Kos interview, Dolly Parton explained her huge Gay and Lesbian following by saying that she was simply living out the Christian tenets instilled in her as a child. She refuses to “judge” based on lifestyles because she has felt the sting of being “different” her whole life. She truly is a gracious lady. She would have made a great addition onstage alongside Waylon, Willie, Kris and Johnny Cash as one of The Highwaymen. Of course they would have had to change that to The Highway people.
Speaking of which, Willie Nelson plans to open his own chain of cannabis clubs. Enough said. Trace Atkins sang “I’m No Angel” at Gregg Allman’s televised 70th birthday bash. Blurring the hard and fast lines of music genres is, for me, a good thing.
I think I wear my rock “Social Distortion” T-shirts so people won’t automatically assume that my sex, color and age put me in a specific political camp. Some of Social D’s best tunes are covers of Johnny Cash songs. Unfortunately, stereotyping is a way of life for many of us. Sometimes it’s not very subtle. Party lines in the sand are evident from almost the first moment you meet someone. Ever hear “Liberals have ruined my country?” That speaks volumes about the person talking and how they perceive you, friend or foe. Others proclaim “What a redneck county.” You hear it from both sides. This is not about Sender’s and their customers. One of my favorite trips is up the hill to shop at their hardware store and to get a deli sandwich. W are really neither of the phrases above. We are simply people, the most complex organism on the planet. Sadly, sometimes we are also the most frustrating and narrow-minded.