Voicing Politics, Politicizing Country Radio

Because I mentioned this in class… here’s a glimpse into the political music(s) that interest me in the context of our readings.

VIDEO: “Country Boy” by Aaron Lewis

If you watch Aaron Lewis video above, or more importantly, passively hear it on the radio, it doesn’t sound so different than Steve Earle’s celebrated dirt road anthem “Copperhead Road.” The legacy of grandfathers, an attachment to place (land, roads, hunting grounds), survival instincts and a laundry list of abilities that will allow the male protagonist to outlive the apocalypse with a good conscious (read: the singers aren’t bad people) are heard in the lyrics sung over typically traditional country instruments. Lewis’ tune concludes with Charlie Daniels solo fiddling of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” These songs are entrenched in a history and a heritage. There is a masculine energy that runs throughout the songs (and others in this vein/subgenre) that seems to connect the singers directly to the forefathers of the country–  the best, the resilient, the “real” embodiment of an American spirit quickly being lost to governmental control, the loss of the rural, the feminization of masculine roles, and (the singers would insist) a way of life lost to corporate greed.

Like Charlie Daniels “Long Haired Country Boy” who “ain’t askin nobody for nothing if he can’t get it on his own” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” Lewis’ audience has the (Tea Party, American, Confederate, depending on the song) flag waving and the performers are secure in their faith that they “will survive.” Hank Juniors words are used on purpose here. He made his mark with “Country Boys Can Survive” singing about his family and (imagined) community (see: Anderson) of survivalists who “make our own whiskey and our own smoke too, ain’t too many things these boys can’t do.” This message is not new to mainstream country radio listeners– sentiments of independence have been conflated with “good ole boy” images since the 1970s. What is new however, is the overtly political language and party affiliation. For instance, Lewis’ song concludes with the following dialogue spoken (by Charlie Daniels) over a traditionally fiddled version of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” : “I love my country. I love my guns. I love my family. I love the way it is now, and anybody that tries to change it has to come through me. That should be all of our attitudes. Cause this is America, and a country boy is good enough for me, son.”

How can the rhythm interwoven into a traditional aesthetic constructed to be the “core” of (southern) American culture be silenced, dis/rupted, confronted– or better yet, heard as political rather than traditional? These songs are anthems for the independent, more importantly they are political, they are mainstream, and the lyrics seep into our national soundscape and personal psyches without control. Is this a sound of neoliberalism?

(above: Aaron Lewis’ neck tattoo “Don’t Tread on Me”)

selected lyrics:

You’d never catch me out the house without my nine or forty-five
I got a big orange tractor and a diesel truck
And my idea of heaven is chasing white-tailed bucks
And as a country boy I know I can survive

Now two flags fly above my land
That really sum up how I feel
One is the colors that fly high and proud
The red, the white, the blue

The other one’s got a rattlesnake
With a simple statement made
“Don’t tread on me” is what it says
And I’ll take that to my grave

Because this is me
I’m proud to be American and strong in my beliefs
And I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again
‘Cause I’ve never needed government to hold my hand

And I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again
‘Cause my family’s always fought
And died to save this land
And a country boy is all I’ll ever be…

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