The NFL is Back: Prepare For Terrible Country Music
As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell put it yesterday during his press conference: “Football is back and that is the great news for everybody.”
Now to the bad news: The return of football also means the return of the some of the hokiest music you’ll ever willingly sit through.
Yes, Hank Williams Jr.’s “Are You Ready For Some Football?” is catchy and has become a part of the Monday Night Football tradition. And yes, Faith Hill is hotter than a West Texas armadillo under the July sun. But the fact that mainstream, Nashville country (side note: Williams was not always Nashville’s boy but he definitely has become a member of the mainstream) is the soundtrack of our national obsession saddens me.
I’m not a country music hater; actually, I’m quite the opposite.
I am enamored by Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr., Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt. I just cannot get behind the Nashville establishment, the people who for the last half century have worked to take the grit out of traditional country music.
So please, when you turn on Sunday Night and Monday Night Football, remember: what you are hearing is a diluted take on country. It is unfair to judge a genre based on its most radio-minded releases; you wouldn’t cast aside the genre of rock because you disliked Britney Spears’ version of “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll”, would you?
Real country is storytelling music; traditional and gritty as our nation’s folktales. Cash told us about Ira Hayes and Billy Joe; Kristofferson mused about the drunkard Billy Dalton and the Devil himself. These songs are fables; modern-day folktales meant to warn against certain behavior and tell us about injustice.
But they also function as reminders of a different time. They capture a world before iPads and dieting; it’s all six-shooters, whiskey and open land.
In 1976, the music of Waylon Jennings, who was part of the “outlaw” movement that worked outside of the Nashville country scene, captured the fancy of an Englishman named Paul Kennerley.
Kennerley became obsessed with American country music and by 1978 had written and recorded the first of two concept albums about the mid-19th century South. The 1978 album, White Mansions, tells the story of the Civil War from the Southern point-of-view and the 1980 album, The Legend of Jesse James, follows the life of the bandit-rebel.
The idea of an Englishman writing and setting to music 19th century Southern history seems strange; what is stranger is the talent that Kennerley, an unknown songwriter, was able to recruit for his project.
Jennings and Eric Clapton both play on the 1978 album and the 1980 album features country-music royalty like Cash, Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm and Charlie Daniels. In 1997, the two albums were released together under the title Confederate Tales.
White Mansions begins with a heartbreakingly beautiful preface performed by Jessi Colter called “A Story to Tell.” In a mournful voice, Colter sings to an old man who has fought for what he believed to be right, telling him that “I don’t think you’re going to live to see the change.”
The slow piano and the soft resonance of Colter’s voice force empathy for the old man, which raised many moral issues for me the first time I listened to the album. I asked myself: Is it okay to listen to an album that evokes pity for the old Southern man who lost the Civil War?
As I thought about it more and listened to the rest of the songs, I decided that it was absolutely fine. White Mansions romanticizes the simple, yet grand Southern culture of the time, but is realistic in its casting of the war. The earlier songs capture the enthusiasm of the Confederation but the second half of the album is peppered with sorrow and regret.
The album ends with “Dixie, Now You’re Done”, a reworking of an earlier track “Dixie, Hold On” , which tells of the ruins the South is left in after the war.
There are questionable features of the album; I would not consider it perfectly in line with modern-day political correctness. But the music is truly great; it is gritty, yet melodic. And a couple tracks are absolutely gorgeous.
The Legend of Jesse James is more performative, with Helm playing Jesse, Cash playing his older brother Frank and Emmylou Harris playing Jesse’s wife. The album tells James’ legend, from his near-fatal injury during the Civil War through his murder at the hands of Robert Ford.
Harris’ voice is the true star of the album. She unleashes heartfelt ballads about the man she loves, which work to humanize Jesse James. “Heaven Ain’t Ready For You Yet” tells of her nursing the young and wounded James back to health and “Wish We Were Back in Missouri” captures the loneliness of being married to a bandit.
Besides Harris’ tracks, the Band’s Levon Helm performs an incredible song called “One More Shot” about James’ final and fateful robbery that never came to pass. The melody is faster than the most of Confederate Tales and Helm’s voice is as soulful and startling as usual. “One More Shot” is true country music; it is train-robbing music.
Confederate Tales probably wouldn’t be released today; Tipper Gore would never allow it. But it’s an absolutely worthwhile album to own; it is music you’d be bemoaned not to hear.
Some lyrics might make you cringe, but don’t let it ruin the album as a whole. There are truly beautiful songs throughout the collection and also some good ol’ country diddies.
So when you’re tuning into Sunday Night Football, do me a favor: turn your TV on mute and throw on “A Story to Tell”. You’ll still get to watch nearly-nude Faith Hill dance around in a futuristic version of the WWF cage-match ring, but you’ll also be listening to some truly pristine country music.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 2 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 3 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 4 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 5 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Startup
- 6 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 7 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 8 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 9 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook