Pan o Palo

I Ain’t A-Two-Steppin’ Anymore
April 1, 2009, 12:45 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Today, the New York Times’ Jon Caramanica puts on his hip boots and wades into the shit swamp known as (popular?) conservative protest music to profile one John Rich:

There’s no screaming on the first great song of the bailout era. No audible rage. No tears. Instead, on “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” the country star John Rich, singing evenly, sounds perfectly levelheaded, as if he’d thought through his position thoroughly and acquired the peace of the righteous:

I see all these big shots whining on my evening news

About how they’re losing billions and it’s up to me and you

To come running to

The rescue

“The song is not depressing,” Mr. Rich said last week, in an interview in the rooftop bar of a hotel in Gramercy Park. “The song is defiant.”

So, while Rich is propping up his shit-kickers on a table, sipping Scotch and yammering with elite media-types, he’s also found the time to label his Warner Bros.-sanctioned rallying cry ‘defiant’.

It continues:

But even though Mr. Rich’s subject matter is au courant, his tropes are familiar country tugs of war: urban versus rural, modern versus traditional, white collar versus blue. The most bracing moment on “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” comes not when Mr. Rich points a finger at those “living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town,” but when he reflects on the little guy: “Well that old man’s been working in that plant most all his life/ Now his pension plan’s been cut in half and he can’t afford to die,” his voice dropping a half-step on the last word to indicate where the real locus of tragedy resides.

Mr. Rich sees the song as being in the us-versus-them tradition of “Okie From Muskogee,” the 1969 semisatire of country life by Merle Haggard, with whom Mr. Rich recently crossed paths.

“He put his hand on my shoulder, and he looked me dead in the eye,” Mr. Rich recalled. “He said, ‘That new song you have out now, that reminds me a whole lot of “Okie.” As a songwriter, that is officially the highest compliment I’ve ever been paid.”

This is a greater indictment of the music industry than it is the token “angry white man with a $1000 guitar and 2000-gallon hat”.  Country music has been talking about this stuff for years, but was apparently too nuanced for critics from the Times to notice before (save the ‘semisatire’ of Okie, which reads more like Weird Al than Merle would like us to believe).

Then, we get to the literal:

This isn’t Mr. Rich’s first dalliance with Republican talking points. Last year he stumped for Fred Thompson before throwing his support behind Senator John McCain and recording a rally song, “Raising McCain,” a far less imaginative slice of propaganda. (“He got shot down/in a Vietnam town/fighting for the red, white and blue.” )

Now that Republicans are underdogs, it’s a particularly good time to be a conservative agitator, and Mr. Rich is seizing the moment. His next single will be “The Good Lord and the Man,” about his grandfather, whom he said had been awarded six Purple Hearts in World War II:

When I see people on my TV taking shots at Uncle Sam,

I hope they always remember why they can

’Cause we’d all be speaking German, living under the flag of Japan,

If it wasn’t for the good Lord and the man.

“I mean it completely literally,” Mr. Rich said.

Ahhh…we get to the sweet, sweet American red meat of the protest.  “Shut up about World War II, Herr Takahashi!”  John McCain didn’t crash multiple planes and Fred Thompson didn’t sacrifice his questionable talent in “Die Hard II” for you to piss and moan about why this country rawks!  John Rich is gonna set you straight…right after his Bombay Sapphire Gin colonic.

Look, I seriously have zero issue with conservative movementarians taking up proverbial arms and penning songs about why they’re pissed.  I’m just going off of the track record: protesting for the sake of Phil in Marketing.  This stuff sells concert tickets, crude bumper stickers, and tacky baby-t’s.  It seems to almost always have more to do with Billboard’s Hot 40 and ClearChannel rotation than it does at provoking thought.  And these words aren’t really giving folks a lot to chew on or ponder…it’s as if John Rich got a hold of Brian Williams’ teleprompter and strummed a few chords to it.

So, I’m gonna follow this song to see how well it really does.  My guess is pretty well…only because of stories like this and the inevitable push by Warner Bros. to get this on every country station in the land.  I’m also curious if this is going to inspire folks to get involved to stop things like Rich is talking about from happening.  Good luck.


5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Andy, I clicked on this cuz I love ya, man, but it took forever to read and left me with a headache. This light-gray-on-dead-black format may be all kewl & artistic ‘n’ all but it is nearly unreadable.

The copy you wrote, which comes up in white, is bearable. The stuff in blockquotes is the tiny no-contrast gray of which I complain.

And you make terrific points, which is why I whine. If your stuff sucked I would just go away and resolve never to read your links again.

Comment by xan

Duly noted, xan. I completely agree, and have “re-templated” for readability. Thanks!

Comment by AndyMN

Jon Caramanica is a moron.

Seriously. The Times apparently has to have at least one pop music writer at any given moment who belongs to the “Everything’s Great, Even the Obvious Shit” school of criticism.

Comment by steve simels

Wow! That’s what I call service-with-a-smile.

You have permission to name your child Xanthippe A. Rownsdowner should you be so inclined. 🙂

Comment by xan

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