Sturgill Simson is possibly the most intriguing figure at the top of today’s US music culture. Outspoken, brash, and even off-putting at times, Simpson doesn’t hesitate to criticize the corporate music industry. He made his chops in country, but like so many others before him, Simpson used that platform as a springboard to building a massive base. I don’t know what genre I’d put him in. I do know the video for the single he just released, “Sing Along”, blew my mind.
Dystopia is the theme of the day for many artists. My own daughters have strains of it in their music, such as Rebecca’s quirky tune “Medicine Bag.” Simpson’s new song ventures into imaginative storytelling by way of the video of “Sing Along”—it’s an animated video. It’s very clever, and the final scene may catch you by surprise.
Simpson talked to a celeb talk show host known for alt-left (very alt-left) views, and he said this, as reported by top media site Saving Country Music:
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this anymore because a lot of the business sides of things, and like some heartbreak and betrayal, and just learning things that you already know. Remind yourself that, you know-It is a dirty toxic industry. And I wanted to express a lot of that.”
I listened to the new song and watched the video, and the first thing I thought of was Billy Collins’ poem “The Country.” I always thought Collins was aiming at the cliquish academic culture he wasn’t welcome in. Collins, by the way, is one of the only poets I’ve seen since the 1970s who could pack an auditorium with willing listeners, as compared to universities where students are herded to a poetry reading because a professor is schmoozing the poet for whatever reasons. At any rate, for a few years, Collins proved poetry could make a comeback in the US and it could do so by avoiding self-indulgent confessional dribble that was nothing more than a poet wallowing in ‘me-ism’.
Simpson produces a similar statement with “Sing Along.” I plan to watch the video again on a bigger screen because I suspect there are lots of little motifs throughout it that a small screen inhibits. Simpson’s lyrics suggest duality in what the speaker is addressing, with lines like these:
“Tell ’em to carve my name in the bar stool, baby
You know I’m gonna be here a while
A single strand of spider’s weave
Just dancing in the sun”
Frankly, I like his new song and I don’t care if it’s country or not. I’ve often written that I go for the song rather than the artist and I like many different kinds of music. At times Simpson’s political statements seem very naïve to me, but that’s standard among the vast majority of entertainers regardless of their ideology. The video and the driving rhythm and score give the song its strength—I do think the lyrics could stand improvement.
Give his new song “Sing Along” a listen. The album Sound and Fury is now available for preorder.
The story at Saving Country Music, the site linked above, further explains the full length album is matched by videos with segments designed for each song on the album.
In Collins’ poem, sentiments about shredding the establishment are expressed through the eyes of a country mouse. The poem is based on an old tale I heard as a girl—never leave wooden matchsticks out (or a box open) because a mouse could drag one on the floor and burn up your house. Collins wrote:
“Who could fail to notice,
lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?”
That final scene in the poem is like a Disney film noir. Creative works like Collins’ in-your-face poem bucking the system have potential to change hearts and minds. I’m guessing that’s what Simpson is after, and as I said earlier, my daughters’ song “Medicine Bag” aims at the same. It hasn’t drawn the attention many of their other songs have, but it remains one of my favorites. I like it better live—it’s one of the only songs they’ve produced that I took issue with because of the enhanced brightness in Rebecca’s voice. That’s another story for another day.
On Simpson, he’s deleted social media in the past, and I wasn’t able to locate a page for him on Facebook. FYI.
(Kay B. Day/Sept. 26, 2019)