JAIMIE VERNON – DEAD GENRE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
It’s confession time. Some of my devoted readers are not going to like it. It’s related to my disdain for certain genres of music so if you’ve got a strong constitutional defense for the music you love you may want to read the ‘New Yorker’ in your smoking jacket instead. Or track down re-re-re-runs of the Grand Ol’ Opry on TVland. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool music snob. I have no patience or interest in Jazz, The Blues or Country music.
I can hear the outraged cries of “whaaaaaaa???” as I write this. I don’t want to hear it (your protestations or the music). You know those sales guys that call your house trying to sell you what you don’t need? You can’t sell me on any of these genres. I have zero need for them in my life. They do not speak to me, move my soul or penetrate my cholesterol-riddled heart strings…hell, they don’t even make me tap my foot. I’m 52, stubborn and conversion resistant.
Following the passing of George Jones in 2013 someone on Facebook said that Jones’ voice had once been compared to a steel guitar. I asked whether or not he was eating the guitar at the time ‘cause I can only imagine it sounding like a tornado damaged tin roof from a barn being dragged across 40 miles of rusty train tracks
I don’t know why or how I grew my dislike. Maybe it’s merely the fact that I was weaned on nothing but pop music my entire life – though, that’s not even 100% accurate because my father was playing Hank Williams, Marty Robbins and Eddie Arnold records around the house a lot when I was growing up. And I do get a bit nostalgic when I hear those old tunes. However, I tend to believe it’s not the music at all, just a reminder of better times with my later Dad.
Still, there is little doubt that the line-dancing, boot-scootin’, Bohunk dufus, cowboy hatted clichés of my generation are nothing but an embarrassing Gong Show to die-hards. Don’t believe me? Just imagine Hootie & The Blowfish’s Darius Rucker trying to prove his Country credibility. Hold on. He did it here. http://www.countryweekly.com/news/darius-rucker-accepts-twitter-challenge
It’s not about the music anymore – it’s about branding. At some point the Country Music community had a meeting in the board room of a multi-million dollar music publishing company in Nashville, Tennessee around 1988 – the Council of Beale Street , as it were – where it was unanimously decided that the Podunk, corn-stalk chawin’, dungaree wearing, banjo plucking, wife-beating, whiskey-drinking, cousin-fucking image of Country needed a facelift. And they weren’t about to wait for another Dolly Parton breast reduction or a Kenny Rogers facelift gone wrong to sink the genre once and for all. They just replaced an out-dated set of ridiculous stereotypes with a whole set of new ones.
A bunch of failed rock artists stuck Stetsons on their heads, cowboy boots on their feet and bolero ties around their necks and suddenly guys that were lawyers and accountants during the week were strapping on Stratocasters and long-sleeve denim shirts and hitting the stage on the weekends. And radio gave it a clever name: NEW Country.
I wonder how many consulting firms it took to come up with that brilliant marketing tagline? News flash, Brainiacs – New Country is over 25 years old now…time for another new marketing name.
On a base level I don’t relate to the lifestyles espoused by Country songs. It’s a truly foreign concept to this city slicker. Nobody has gone and done me wrong. I’ve never made love to my high school sweetheart in a barn full of pig manure and I’ve certainly never driven naked in a pick-up truck drunk and threatened to kill the police. Oh, wait…that’s a Randy Travis song that’s YET to be written.
Then Merle Haggard dies this week and I’m torn between my dislike for the genre as it IS and the respect for the genre as it WAS. Country music is as far removed from Merle as Rock and Roll now is from Chuck Berry. And Merle knew Chuck but never the Shania Twain did meet. They each played their roles in their respective genres without so much as a blurred tumbleweed to confuse the audience. Alas, some marketing gurus – probably the descendants of those publishing guys in Nashville – attempted to gentrify Merle to give him pop culture clout but it played out about as well as your average episode of the Beverly Hillbillies. Check out his appearance on the Donny and Marie show for confirmation.
(Editor’s Note: Jaimie, this is the hardest thing I have ever had to sit through. No wonder Merle drank. Donny and Marie look like an airline stewardess and a male prostitute from Glee.)
Merle’s death took the sprigs of Country with it. Aside from Roy Clark, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and a handful of session pros who are valiantly trying to wave the flag – it’s over, kids.
We’re losing our musical soul through attrition. We’re losing our musical brains through Big ‘n’ Rich. As in all things in life, we can’t dial back the clock, but we can certainly go back and study the masters and figure out where it all was so perfectly, intrinsically, right. As clichéd as the genre was (and is), there was an innocence and there was an unshakeable truth to what guys like Merle, Hank, Johnny Cash and Waylon were espousing. Hard lives. Hard living. Hard lessons. And not a BMW or Lear Jet among them.
When Country fans stop consuming Hayseed Lite and start digging into real Country music there will be a turning point, one where the hero doesn’t necessarily get the girl – he gets schooled. What he learns is that the train coming down the track is extinction. Time to preserve the art form and get back to Country’s roots. Merle’s death is a wake up call.
Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA
Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday
Contact us at email@example.com
Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon