I’ve been reading Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto, a collection of essays about low culture and Generation-X culture. The first essay I read (appearing somewhere in the middle of the book) makes some really good points about country music:

You can’t really learn much about a person based on what kind of music they happen to like. As a personality test, it doesn’t work even half of the time. However, there is at least one thing you can learn: The most wretchet people in the world are those who tlel you they like every kind of music “except country.” People who say that are boorish and pretentious at the same time. All it means is that they’ve managed to figure out the most rudimentary rule of pop psychology; they know that the hipsters gauge the coolness of others by their espoused taste in sound, and they know that hipsters hate modern country music. And they hate it because it speaks to normal people in a tangible, rational manner. Hipsters hate it because they hate Midwesterners,, and they hate Southerners, and they hate people with real jobs.

Now, obviously, this hipster distaste doesn’t apply to old country music, because everybody who’s cool loves that stuff (or at least claims to). Nobody questions the value of George {expletive} Jones. It’s completely acceptable for coolies to adore the idea of haggard nineteen-year-old men riding in cabooses and having their hearts shattered, which is why alternative country is the most popular musical genre of the last twenty-five years that’s managed to remain completely unpopular (if you follow my meaning).

I sort of used to be one of those “except country” people, except back in my day it was “except country and rap.” It was a relatively common reply at the time (with and without the “and rap”). At Mayne High School it wasn’t so much a hipster thing as it was a class thing, to the extent that you can differentiate between the two. I went to an upper-crest high school and suggesting that you didn’t like country music separated you from those folks that came to school wearing the big belt buckles. A special sort of conspicuous country music fan that we called “kikkers”.

The first time I started running into hipsteria was on Camelot BBS. The kind of music you liked was not completely unimportant at Mayne High (though interestingly it was more of a social qualifier amongst guys than girls), it became much more of a market of who you were in Camelot. It makes sense in its own sort of way since the biggest music people at Mayne High School tended to fill the ranks of the not-popular and un-popular. The Homecoming Queen aside, there were few actual popular people in Camelot. If you can’t be good, be different. If people that you don’t believe are better than you are treated as though they are, find your own reason why you are better. Like, cause your taste in music rox and theirs sux.

And that is, on its darkest level, what hipsterism is. The desire of those that don’t fit the standard criteria for social worthiness to create their own. A music critic in a cramped NYC apartment may not make as much as some corporate type with a trophy wife, but by gawd at least he has taste in music. I’m not saying that’s the only reason why people delineate based on musical or artistic tastes, but that’s a part of it.

The noteworthy thing about the Except Country response, is that not only is it hipsterism at its worst, but it’s a particular kind of lazy hipsterism. Are these people really saying that they actually like all kinds of music that doesn’t come with a twang? They would spend their free time listening to African bongo drum music or whatever? Morbid Angel? Del Shannon? Engima? Indigo Girls? You can like all of these things, and yet somehow country music is just beyond you? Yeah, okay. Of course, they often don’t know who Morbid Angel and Enigma are. Or maybe they’re worried that they’re talking to someone that likes Indigo Girls or something and don’t want to say anything mean (country fans, of course, are fair game). But generally I take it to be the response to someone that listens largely to Top 40, doesn’t want to sound like a sheep, doesn’t really care about the specific genres that they’re hearing, and don’t want to sound completely indifferent.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with laziness when it comes to music. Most people are pretty lazy. They eat the diet that the radio feeds them because it’s really not worth their time to go out and find new stuff. I used to be in that category and probably still would be if it weren’t for the R&B-infusion in pop music and the excessive commercials and chatter that drove me away from the radio. I’m hardly an aficionado when it comes to music. I like what I like and I don’t like what I don’t like. So by and large, I am more forgiving of “except country” responses and merely ask them who some of their favorite bands are (which, btw, is the best way to answer the question in the first place).

The smugness of singling out the single sort of distasteful music, however, does particularly grate when they go out of their way to say why they don’t like country music. It’s less of a problem now than it used to be, but it used to often demonstrate in no uncertain terms that they didn’t listen to enough country music to single it out. They will talk about how all country songs are about this and that when really comparatively few are. Almost none, really. Country music stopped being about losing your wife/mother/girlfriend/house/dog a long time ago. If they would simply say that they don’t care much for country music because of the pedestrian themes of the lyrics or because they can’t relate to the glorification of rural America and/or the working class or because they like a more electric sound, I wouldn’t figuratively roll my eyes.

That leads me into Klosterman’s other observation, which is that people that say “except country” will often double right back and carve an exception to the exception for classical country. This flies right in the face of many of the complaints about country music. Half the time, whatever they say they hate about country music applies doubly so to the classical stuff. One of the biggest things to dislike about contemporary country music is how much like everything else it has become. Say you dislike country for the same reason you dislike pop and I immediately understand where you’re coming from. Say that you dislike country because it’s inbred hick music and then mention “But Willie Nelson is okay” and you’ve lost my attention. The twang that they complain about is less pronounced than ever for the most part. Fewer fiddlers, fewer steel guitarists.

Klosterman goes on to sing the praises of country music (which he personally does not care for). I think I’ll post on that at some point, too, so stay tuned.


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12 Responses to * Except Country

  1. web says:

    I have a general dislike for most “Country Music”, but there are occasional songs I make an exception for. Likewise for Rap/Hip-hop: I generally find the genre distasteful, but occasionally I find a specimen or two worth the occasional listen.

    When I used to say “I generally don’t like X, but I do like song Z or song Q”, however, I was subjected to endless “well this one is really cool, you’ll like it too” attempts. I can see where someone subjected to this would begin to balk and eventually, even though they still like a few songs in the category, simply state a categorical distaste merely to avoid the nuisance of those who will see the admission of liking a few songs as a “foot in the door.”

  2. trumwill says:

    I get where you’re coming from with not carving out exceptions to a general distaste for the genre. I do the same thing for rap. It’s not worth pointing out that there are some exceptions to the rule.

    There is a difference between answering in the negative when asked whether you like country music and what Chuck and I are talking about. We’re talking about saying that you like all kinds of music and then expressly de-listing country. It’s a cheap and easy way to say “Hey, have a broad appreciation for different styles of music” and yet also being discriminating “But not that stuff those hicks listen to.”

    If someone says “I don’t like country music” it doesn’t bother me (unless they’re just oozing with contempt or something like that).

    The best way to sidestep this is when you’re asked what kind of music you like to actually answer the question. Mention some genres you like or if your tastes and tell them what kind of music you actually like. Suggesting that you like “all kinds” doesn’t really answer that question. It’s extremely unlikely to be true… even with the country exemption.

  3. Kirk says:

    Two quick points…

    1) Country music is the only currently-popular music that has lyrics about love.

    2) The only time I really enjoyed rap was when it was the soundtrack for “Office Space.” (“Die motherfucker, die!”)

    Cool songs, some old, some new:

    Old: “Golden Dawn”, by Ministry. “Stone Dead Forever,” by Motorhead. “Grinder,” by Judas Priest.

    New: “Help I’m Alive”, by Metric.

    Newish: Placebo has five or six good songs in this category. “Pure Morning,” “Infra Red,” “Every You, Every Me,” “Post Blue”, “Running Up That Hill.”

    Also, “Give it Up,” and “No Way Back,” by 8mm.

  4. web says:

    Well, there are crappy songs in any genre. I am a fan of Aerosmith… and by that I mean I like about 40% or so of their work.

    Responses to Kirk:

    1) That’s just plain not true. Admittedly, rap/hip-hop has very little in the way of the topic, but the rock genre has quite a bit.

    2) My objection to rap/hip-hop stems from three fronts. First, there’s the (c)rap that simply has a two- or three-note beat and someone talking over it. Second, there’s the women hip-hop “singers” who it seems are physically incapable of either staying on key, or maintaining the same note for more than 1/100th of a second. “waAaAaaaaaaaAaaaaAAAAaAAAaa” hurts my ears.

    Third, there’s the content itself. I’ve listened to “clean” rap, and had no problem with it. I find Weird Al’s rap parodies to be deliciously funny even as I find the original inspiring songs to be pure garbage.

    With that being said… gimme some MC Frontalot or Optimus Rhyme and we’ll have some fun.

  5. trumwill says:

    I agree mostly with Web on #1. In fact, one of the things I like about country is that it doesn’t seem like all of the songs are about love as it does with Rock.

    Of course, it depends a little bit on what you count. For instance, if you’re talking about songs about falling in love, staying in love, getting married, having children, and growing old together… then yeah, nobody covers that like country.

    However, if you count songs about desperately wanting to fall in love, about the euphoria of the initial relationship, about being unhappy in a relationship, about breaking up, wanting to fornicate, about having been left, about wanting to leave, and so on… country sings about that stuff less so than does Top 40.

  6. trumwill says:

    Regarding rap… I’m simply uninterested in the subject matter. The lifestyle it plays up is not one that I can relate to or am greatly interested in. What rap I do enjoy typically has one thing in common: they’re funny. I liked (and still like) some of the Run DMC and Fresh Prince and other pre-gangsta rap that my brother introduced me to with subject matter like goofing off with friends or parents failure to understand the trials and tribulations of youth. I enjoyed Eminem until I stopped finding him funny. I haven’t tired of ICP, but that’s mostly because I limit my exposure.

    Rap in movie soundtracks, like Kirk’s reference to Office Space, sometimes works really well. Even when it’s not funny.

  7. Linus says:

    Will,

    You say you’re “uninterested in the subject matter” of rap, and yet complain when people “demonstrate in no uncertain terms that they don’t listen to enough country music to single it out”. Do you listen to enough rap to know that none of it has interesting subject matter?

    I ask because the the twang in country music generally makes my hair stand on end. Therefore, I listen to very little country music. Does that give me the right to say that it all sucks? No. Can I say that I don’t care for country music without proving that I’ve listened to a lot of it? I think so. Sometimes it’s just preferences, and not some kind of elitism.

  8. trumwill says:

    It’s like I was telling Web, it’s not a matter of whether one likes country music or not. There is a lot not to like. And no, I don’t think you need to listen to more than maybe a half-dozen to get an idea that it’s just not something for you.

    The issue is those going out of one’s way to declare one’s distaste for it. Such as suggesting that you are broadminded and worldly enough to enjoy all kinds of music… except, you know, that one with the steel guitars.

    It’s not always a matter of elitism. I would say it is more frequently a sort of lazy appeal to elitism than actual elitism in itself. And in a way it actually bothers me more than elitism. At least with elitists, if they say they like indie punk but hate that that backward inbred country sh*t, I can fire right back at the pretentiousness of indie punk and we can have a fun little debate. Saying “Oh, I like all kinds… except country” well, it’s sort of faux-elitism or laziness that’s not worth debating.

    Indeed, follow up the “except country” response with a question about favorite bands and you will usually get some pretty uninteresting responses. Maybe because they have boring tastes or maybe because they’re afraid of mentioning anyone unpopular. Either way, it’s definitely not a “best-foot-forward” response for me.

  9. thebastidge says:

    Or sometimes it is people who were forced into exposure, and didn’t care for it.

    My usual answer of what kind of music I like/listen to, is “nearly anything but country and hard-core gangster rap.” In fact I do listen to some world music on occasion, and have enjoyed and even participated in drumming circles, digeridoo music, classical, and folk music from a couple different cultures (not surprisingly on reflection, wildly different cultures such as Gypsies, Mexicans, and Koreans all listen to traditional music that is often similar enough to substitute lyrics and seem authentic.)

    My parents listened to country the whole time I was growing up, and not only did I not like it because my parents listened to it, I got over-exposed to the point it grates on my nerves- particularly old country. I much prefer modern country with a rock beat, or purely acoustic folk music to old school twangy country. I do get tired of the pedestrian lyrics of country in general, and I do think a lot of sh*tkickers who listen to country are boring hicks with little thought behind their belt buckles. But I wouldn’t automatically dismiss someopne who listens to country music as a stupid hick- it’s more of a geographical thing than a class differentiator. I’ve even been in some amusing situations such as Country/Western bars in Japan.

  10. trumwill says:

    Fair enough. I gotta ask, though, what about death metal, industrial, and the like? That falls into a whole separate category of music I don’t like: Not only do I not like it and fail to appreciate that there’s something I’m missing (as I do appreciate with classical music, for instance), but I am completely at a loss to understand how anybody else likes it.

    You actually touch on one of the best counterarguments to my post which I kept waiting for someone to point out, which is that unlike more obscure kinds of music (bongo drums, etc), country is one of the few that a lot of people are forced to listen to against their will. Particularly in the South. So there’s an argument to be made that country is what comes to mind when they think of musical styles they don’t like. Elevator music is another one, though not liking elevator music almost goes without saying.

    I don’t disagree about the kikkers. I think one of the reasons why I was so resistant to country music when I was younger (and why I think a lot of others are resistent to it) was that I genuinely did not like most people that liked it. Not in the sense that I thought I was better than them (my self-esteem didn’t allow for that), but that they weren’t my kind of people. When I started dating Julie and spending time in a blue collar town where country music was the norm, my perspective on that changed and I gave it another shot and it took.

  11. web says:

    There are, of course, certain genres that require a very torturous definition of the term “music.” Rap, for example, was originally an acronym (“rhythmic accompanied poetry”) that grew out of the tradition of the Beat Poets.

    I don’t know when it turned into the foul-mouthed gutter tripe that 99.9% of the genre is today, but I can guarantee you that the original “rap artists” did not consider themselves musicians.

    As for death metal/industrial… I’m convinced it was started by people who were either 100% deaf, or at least tone deaf.

  12. thebastidge says:

    I had a death metal phase, and an industrial phase. Really not the same thing, tho they are often lumped together now, they were two distinct groups of musicians and listeners before they became popular enough for the average person to be able to classify them.

    I was pretty much a metal/classic rock kid in black t-shirt type until I moved away from home and got more exposure to lots of different influences, although as a musician who played brass in the High Schoool band, I did have some more eclectic tastes that I indulged on my own in private- Spirogyra, Rippingtons, Tommy Dorsey, some jazz fusion stuff. And secretly, I really really wanted to play brass for Miami Sound Machine (Gloria Estefan) back in the day.

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