The bastardization of country music

With all of the modern technology we have today — advances that allow us to play whatever music we want wherever we want it — it baffles me a bit that people still listen to the radio.

But they do, and while road tripping with some of these old-fashioned folks, I noticed a radio phenomenon that tickled me the wrong way.

Why can’t we escape this bastardization of country music?

You see, it’s easy to criticize country music for being simpleminded; so many country songs we hear really do validate the stereotype that country lyrics are always about pickup trucks, runaway dogs and cheating wives.

But I’m above that.

My problem is much deeper; the music that many have casually called “country” for so long is not “country” at all.

Old country music, from Willie Nelson to Dolly Parton, is fantastic; the lyrics were fierce, and the music was catchy and melodic. But in the 1990s, popular culture chewed country music up, swallowed it and regurgitated it in the form of Shania Twain, Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift.

Real country music was gritty, like the cowboys who created it, and under-produced, like the folk singers who took it and evolved it into a style all their own.

There was more twang, more attitude and certainly more instrumental authenticity reflected in frequent banjo and harmonica playing.

Where is the attitude that country music was founded on? Somewhere along the line, we went from Johnny Cash saying, “The beast in me has had to learn to live with pain” to Brooks and Dunn saying, “Her daddy gave her her first pony, then told her to ride.”

Not only has popular culture bastardized country music, it emasculated it too.

Michael Crist, professor and director for Dana School of Music, said country music today is a “modern adaptation” of what it used to be.

“There are still some components of old country music today; the vocal style is what gives it away,” he said. “But you can even hear rapping in some country music today. It’s not Hank Williams anymore.”

But Melissa Dubaj, country super-fan, said she believes country music is about feeling, no matter what that feeling may be.

“Country music is still uplifting and relatable for anyone willing to give it a chance,” she said. “It changed as the times changed.”

Perhaps the worst song ever made, as well as a perfect example of the pop-culture molestation of country music over time, is Trace Adkins’ “Honkytonk Badonkadonk.”

Basically, Adkins took an urban rap lyric and infused it into his brand of country, affectively thwarting everything country music used to stand for and probably ruining the word “badonkadonk” for the entire hip-hop community.

Hank Williams would roll over in his grave.

I bet most of you reading this who love country music don’t know who Hank Williams even is. That’s kind of like saying you love the United States but you don’t know who George Washington is.

So here’s a very brief history of country music’s evolution:

Hank Williams laid out the blueprint, a dusty trail if you will, for future country and folk singers like Nelson and Bob Dylan to follow.

Those two artists put country and folk on the map, and people emulated them so much that their music transcended styles (Nelson wrote “Crazy” by Patsy Cline and Dylan wrote “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix).

Then, in the 1970s, artists like Kenny Rogers and John Denver initiated a style now referred to as country pop, which had the same music sensibility as older country music, just a bit cheerier and more upbeat.

But then modern country singers like Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks dusted off Williams’ trail and polished it, which was probably never his intention.

And now, country music as we know it is nothing but pop music with a pinch of twang and an occasional slide guitar.

If they called 70s country music “country pop”, I guess now we should call it “country kidsbop”.

So before you country fans pop in your Garth Brooks CDs later, consider tracing the music you love back to its roots. After all, “roots” are what country music was supposed to be about.

3 comments Anonymous Tue Feb 21 2012 23:44 Does this column have an important message? If so, I have yet to identify it. As college students, we seek “higher education,” yet Buker’s “column” is unidentifiable from something a high school freshman could pen on a bad day. The Jambar has struggled to connect with its demographic, subjecting itself to ridicule and harsh criticism, yet little is done to combat it. Hiring workers of Buker’s “caliber” only amplifies its vulnerability. Improving the standards will eliminate criticism. Anonymous Thu Feb 9 2012 10:55 Which Hank Williams? Jr or Sr? Anonymous Thu Feb 9 2012 10:54 /Which Hank Williams, Jr. or Sr?