Loretta Lynn, as my grandma used to say, upset the apple basket. She joined country superstar Martina McBride on her podcast and said something that freaked out many media and many a country fan as well as some top country performers today.
She said country music is “dead”, adding, “I think it’s a shame to let it die.”
Indie musicians, take heart. You are more than likely country music’s only hope.
If you’re signed with a big label and you have a typical contract, you more than likely don’t control your music 100 percent. I get that. You trade the big bucks for a certain amount of creative control. But the problems with country music as we knew it are far bigger than tradeoffs like that.
Turn your radio on. Pick a “country” station. You will mostly hear two types of music: Bro country and pop crossovers.
If pop was in better shape, maybe we could live with that. I think the current state of pop is homogeneity. It all sounds alike. For the life of me, I don’t understand how powers that be controlling country music wanted to create the hybrid country pop sound.
Then again, when I think about country music back in the day, I realize a few things.
Country music used to reflect the lifestyles of the fans. Hard times. Hardheaded men and women. Hard work. Love and loss. And of course, “drankin’”. That last remains intact although the circumstances differ.
Besides those themes there was so much those fans had in common, spread across our big country and often located in small towns. Church, family, and heritage were all part of the mix. Now the lifestyles in many of those small towns have changed. Who’d have ever thought drugs and gangs would infest small towns? It happened.
My generation grew up. Many of us left those small towns for life in a bigger city. That’s where the jobs were. The lifestyles we knew as children are pretty much gone. When I visit my hometown, I always ride through my old neighborhood. It was a mill village. The neighborhood I lived in was very diverse, with blacks and whites living next door to one another. There were no zoning restrictions. The mill actually paid for the school I attended as a youngster. There was no kindergarten—most mothers didn’t work outside the home or if they did, there was always a grandparent or aunt around to keep an eye out for the kids.
Doors weren’t locked.
And with few exceptions, every one of the houses was kept tidy. People took pride in what they had regardless of how little they had.
Now that same neighborhood doesn’t look so nice. Government housing dominates. The little porch where I sat with a black woman we children adored is no longer there. She passed on and her house was torn down. The stories she told us are part of my heritage and childhood, and I carry them forever in my heart.
Things weren’t perfect then. Our country had many wrongs to right and we’re still working on that. But families were far stronger and absentee fatherhood was not typical as it is now for many.
All this plays into our music. Most young adults today haven’t seen real poverty up close and personal, and you can’t write songs about what you haven’t experienced in some way (at least through oral history if nothing else), even if you can fake a Southern accent which most no one can do authentically.
Why is that? Because Southern accents vary from state to state. Southerners know people from Tennessee don’t sound like people from Georgia. In South Carolina, the Holy City has its own take on accents and that take is different from the upstaters’ accents.
The South, like other parts of the country, is changing. Some changes are better; others aren’t.
You’d think that’s where the music would go—narratives about what used to be and what is now.
I don’t think the corporate music bloc would go for that, though.
So it’s up to indies to fix this country challenge, in my opinion.
On her Facebook page, Loretta Lynn wrote:
“Real country tells our stories, comes from our hearts, and gets us through life. My main point to Martina is that there’s such a hard push to crossover and change it up, and do something new that we can lose what country music really is all about. I like it country–pure, simple, and real! I am so proud of all the artists out there, especially the younger ones, who know what I mean and are still keeping it country. When you love something you can’t just stand by quietly if you think it’s in danger. One thing’s for sure, if we keep it country, the fans will keep on listening, I know in my heart that it’s what they want!”
I think she’s right about that, and I hope she realizes indie music is the only salvation we can look for when it comes to country. Now that I think about it, I’d say that applies to rap, pop, filmmaking, and just about every other medium and genre as well.
I’m glad Ms. Lynn started that convo that upset the apple cart when she talked to Martina McBride on her Vocal Point podcast. It’s a convo worth having.
(Kay B. Day/Jan. 31, 2020)
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