Have you ever had a song rightfully accuse you of something? You’re listening and it suddenly hits you like a sack of potatoes. It’s not that you can ‘relate’ to what the singer is saying. It’s that the singer is actually aiming right at you, reminding you of your own misdeeds, character flaws, unreasonable attitudes. A common version of this in the country genre is the song that points out society’s lack of empathy for the poor and downtrodden, that asks us all to be a little kinder to the people we meet on the street.
In a somewhat lighter vein, “Countrier Than Thou” by Robbie Fulks always gives me cause to stop and reconsider my music snobbery. On the song from his excellent 2005 album Georgia Hard, Fulks sings:
Down at the bar, spinnin’ Haggard
He wore a Johnny Reb tattoo
Overalls, he spat and swaggered
Lord he was a Boston Jew
He loved bluegrass – O Brother!
When I said Shania he sneered
“That’s a word I wouldn’t uddah
We like to keep it down home up heeeaaaah”
I don’t have a Johnny Reb tattoo or a Boston accent (and I’m not Jewish), but I know that I have been, and occasionally still am, the guy Fulks is mocking. I like my country as country as I can get it, even though there isn’t much about me personally that’s country. I look down my nose at some of the pop country acts, even though they should be a perfect match for my suburban lifestyle. I think O Brother may have even been my gateway to a deeper appreciation of bluegrass and roots music. Listening to Fulks’ song forces me to confront my own strange relationship to the genre and keep my high opinion of my own musical tastes in check.
What songs implicate you?