Friday, October 29, 2010

Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.

The blogging stars aligned a few days ago. I was working in my studio (I have a small art related business) listening to Merle Haggard Radio on Pandora, and Willie's and Waylon's "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys" comes on. That's a great song. I'm thinking that there must be a way to include that song in my blog, when I notice an email from an old friend.

"I grew up much the same as you- growing up on classical music in a somewhat rural environment. Country music speaks to whatever Hoosier soul I have and reminds me of the lay of land that I come from, even if it is not my family's culture at all. In fact, one of the only ways I have been able to rebel was with country music. My parents were most accepting and liberal about everything- except for their disdain of country music. They simply hate it. Of course, they are completely ignorant of it in many ways. As you pointed out, it's not all about Jesus, mostly about love and family."

Growing up, my Dad had little tolerance for any music that wasn't classical. My Mom, on the other hand has always been more open minded. She would occasionally suffer through listening to a bit of whatever I liked. She was very generous and took my friends and I to see the Police's Synchronicity tour, even though she kept her hands over her ears for the entire concert. She once told me that when she was young she liked Elvis, although I've never heard her voluntarily listen to anything but classical music.

I was curious what she thinks of this blog and my current obsession with country music.  I called her to ask and was actually surprised by her answers.

KC (Kibitzing Country): Hey Mom. So, what do you think of my blog?
Mom: I enjoyed reading it. It has humor. I'm glad you're humor is coming out.

I read her the email from my friend.

KC: So does it bother you that I don't like classical music?
Mom: No, it doesn't bother me. I wish you did. I think it's more sophisticated than other music. We certainly exposed you to it, but it doesn't bother me. If you liked hard rock or rap or mean music, that would bother me. But country music is nice. It expresses universal emotions.
KC: I always assumed that you think it's low class.
Mom: No. I don't think it's low class. When I am on a long car trip, and I can't find a radio station with classical music or NPR, I listen to country.

Wow! Fascinating! I have never given any though to what my Mother listens to when she she's out of range of a classical music station or NPR. Now when I can't find a friend to accompany me to a concert I will bring my Mom and a set of earplugs so she doesn't need to hold her hands over her ears.

For the rest of you Mamas, how do you protect your children from growing up to to be country fans? All I can suggest is not to raise them in the country, or anywhere that resembles the country. Unfortunately, rigorous exposure to classical music does not appear to be an affective vaccine.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Robin Hood Meets Crime Stoppers, Literally

When Toby Keith's album "Bullets in the Gun" came out I didn't immediately fall in love with it's title track. It's grown on me, but I do remember thinking at first "What on earth is Toby singing about, some sort of Bonnie and Clyde nonsense?"  Then last week he released the video.  It is a very literal video. It kicked my internal dialogue onto the subject of literal videos and narrative videos. Strangely enough, one of the blogs I follow The 9513, had a short post on the subject of literal videos just a few days ago.

You can click here to view the "Bullets in the Gun" video.

This is one of the rare instances when the video actually improves the song. The video reminds me of a cross between Disney's Robin Hood and an episode of Crime Stoppers. The little Toby Keith appearing on the screen like Alan-a-Dale (Roger Miller) from the animated versions of Robin Hood, narrating the story, is brilliant. Even better is the instance toward the end of the video where he borrows a technique from theater. There is a quick moment when one can see, on the side of the screen Toby Keith's outline in the shadow. The spotlight comes on and he continues to narrate.

I like the choice of actors. He chose someone that looks just enough like him to for the viewer to make some connection, yet, like in those horrible Crime Stoppers reenactments, the actor never really looks quite like the criminal. Obviously Toby Keith is not singing about an episode of his life, but the loose visual connection between the singer and the actor, since the song is written in the first person,  is effective.

The very narrative video that I think detracts from the song is Brad Paisley's and Allison Kraus' "Whiskey Lullaby".  There is a beautiful abstraction to the lyrics that is completely undermined by the story that plays out in the video. I love videos, but I'd rather watch a clip of them singing the song live.

The song that I think needs a more literal and narrative video is Clay Walker's "She Won't be Lonely Long."  That video is a wasted opportunity. Clay Walker made a timid and boring video for an incredibly sexy song with plenty of visual references.  "Somethin’ bout the way she’s blushin’. You can tell she isn’t sure. Let you know she’s up to somethin’. She’s never done before." I see what he was trying to achieve through subtlety, but there is nothing subtle about that song.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Oy, They Got Me. Facebook has Changed My Consumer Behavior.

Lately my Facebook page has more posts from bands, musicians, and radio stations than friends.  A friend from my high school class, Seth Goldstein, is an expert and entrepreneur in the area of social media.  He is definitely on the leading edge while I am following far in the rear. He sometimes posts his thoughts on social networking and advertising. Seeing these posts made me realize that people are thinking long and deep about something most of us just consider a nuisance. I say to myself, "He isn't talking about me. I'm never clicking on any of those FB ads. Those advertisers think they've got my number, but they consistently miss the mark." I even had confirmation. A while back, probably because I googled horseback riding lessons, all of the ads on my FB page became horse related.  I'm not a horsey kind of gal. I'm actually a little afraid of horses. These horse related ads persist, months later.

Then, the other day, an ad for Sean Patrick McGraw popped up. I was skeptical but I couldn't resist. I clicked. I listened to the one song I could listen to on his website, "My So Called Life", and the next thing I knew I was spending 99 cents.  I am a very impulsive and loose music purchaser, so let's not overthink this purchase, but I am going to concede that they got me. I even "liked" him. Now today, I see his status is "My So Called Life" hits country radio TODAY. Call your local stations!!" I don't call radio stations to make requests but, dang, I have been sucked right into his little marketing ploy.

I think of the time I bought a t-shirt and koozie from Joe Nichols. He posted something about his website's merchandise sale, like he's doing his fans a favor.   I wanted a t-shirt but he didn't have my size at his concert. I went to his website, found my size, added the koozie (which I do love) and typed in my credit card number. I don't regret that purchase, but I wouldn't have made it if it hadn't been for that post.

Other examples are Toby Keith's "Bullets in the Gun" and Kenny Chesney's "Hemingway's Whiskey", two new albums being released within a few days of each other. I see both artists' posts, or rather, posts by their people. They are promoting their albums ad nauseum and I bought both albums within a week of their releases.  This is very uncharacteristic behavior. Usually I download albums in pieces.

Now, to my surprise, I find myself occasionally voting in a peoples' choice award called The ACAs (American Country Awards).  A few of the nominated artists encourage their fans via FB posts to vote for them at least once every day. I rarely do things like vote in online contests. It requires registering initially, signing in each time, and voting over several pages.  I have always assumed that there is some very obsessive group of fans to whom such tasks were automatically delegated. That was not my job.

I've had enough. I'm about to hide the posts of all of the artists I've "liked" on FB, apart from the ones who do the posting themselves and occasionally say something mildly interesting (and I'm using the word "interesting" loosely).  Dierks Bentley, JaronJason Michael Carroll, Jace Everett and Joe Nichols will make the cut .  The first one to be blocked is Jason Aldean.  "Vote for this. Download this. Buy this. Request this." That's enough, Mr. Aldean. Sing a good song, and I'll listen.

I've successfully avoided the distractions of Twitter but am considering giving it another shot.  I've heard a number of artists talk about how they like communicating with their fans via Twitter and am a little curious. Am I just asking for it?

It's Oct. 29th. The post's title has been changed to reflect that FB is the social networking website I use. So far I've hidden Trace Adkins, Toby Keith, Kenney Chesney, and Jason Aldean.  Now that I'm paying attention, I will applaud Dierks Bentley, The Band Perry and Lady Antebellum for making and effort on Facebook to connect with their fans in addition to their fan's wallets.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Song about Faith that an Atheist Can Enjoy

Since I am on the topic of religion in country music, here's a completely secular song about faith, "Believers" by Joe Nichols. It's about optimistically standing up for a belief that one holds dear and not caving to the forces of cynicism.

He hasn't made a video of this song so I had to chose between two options with somewhat mediocre sound.  This  video of him performing the song for Sirius is the best one.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rabbinical Scholars Forgive Me

So I'm sitting at the JCC pool talking to one of my husband's good friends, who doesn't mince words.  "How do you listen to that music? You're not Christian." he asks.

The majority of country music songs are love songs and don't touch on religion at all, but our friend at the pool is also correct.  One of every few songs played on country radio, will have a reference to church, preachers, Jesus, or praying on one's knees. If I'm really bored one day I'll figure out the ratio, but hopefully I will never have that kind of time on my hands.

There are very few songs that I just won't listen to but there are some. Carrie Underwood's "Jesus take the Wheel" and "Temporary Home" are two examples.  Objectively they are both beautiful songs but religiously they are completely foreign to my world view and the religious content is the song.

But sometimes the religious message translates to the Jewish experience.  "God I'm down here on my knees cuz it's the last place left to fall. Beggin' for another chance if there's any chance at all, That you might still be listening, loving and forgiving guys like me." (lyrics) is from Chris Young's recent hit "The Man I Want to Be", (video) asking God's help to change so he can win back a woman he loves. I'm not saying that it's a Jewish song, but this song reminds me of Yom Kippur. It may not be a neat analogy, but rabbinical scholars forgive me, I'm going to give it a whirl.

The man in the song has acknowledged his aveirot (sins). It's implied by this being the last place for him to fall, that he has already asked the woman for forgiveness, and having been rebuffed, is additionally asking forgiveness from God. This is standard Jewish procedure at High Holiday time. He is asking God to change him, which is strangely passive.  Only we can change ourselves.  We would say that in this moment of repentence the man has already changed. In addition are the two lines "God I wanna be your man, I wanna be her man." which brings to mind that concept that we need to repair our relationships with one another in order to repair our relationship with God.

The High Holidays is the only time that Jews get down on their knees and then even go farther to prostrate themselves (during the Aleinu). Very few people apart from the Rabbis and Cantors in progressive synagogues do this, but it is the tradition. It is the time of year that we, as it says in the song, are "beggin' for another chance, if there's any chance at all."

On a more superficial note, sometimes I just change the words of the song if it's one I really like and I want to sing along.  Much to the amusement of my seven year old, Jason Aldean's song "Don't Give Up on Me" now starts "I don't go to shul enough. I curse outloud, I drink too much. I'm more than a sinner than a tzaddik.  I've got a dusty Tanach on my shelf...."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Readers Choice gets No Respect at Country Weekly

So I couldn't resist picking up Country Weekly this week in the supermarket check-out aisle. They have appointed Tim McGraw as country's sexiest man in 2010. Ok. Fine. Tim McGraw is impossibly sexy when he has a hat on. There is a reason he almost always wears that hat.

Here's the thing that amused me and why I'm writing about something so ridiculous.  They say at the beginning of the article that the readers' choices, which they have put in a little box on the last page, surprised them. Obviously that is the case, because only four of the readers' choices overlapped CW's choices, and readers' number one choice, Trace Adkins, isn't even on CW's list.  Now we should at this point remember that I voted for Jaron Lowenstein four times just because he's MOT.  He didn't make the top 10 of either list, and I'm not surprised. I don't actually think that Jaron Lowenstein is country music's sexiest man so I understand that CW's may need to make some editorial decisions that contradict the results of a readers poll. Danny Gokey was #4 on the readers' choice list and I'm glad he wasn't one of CW's top 10.

On the other hand, it's a bit of a shanda that Trace Adkins is the #1 readers' choice and isn't even included in the article. He should be. Many women apparently find the blond giant very attractive and between the radio play he gets, numerous appearances all over television, his ad campaign with Richard Petty, and his tour with Toby Keith, the man is ubiquitous. CW, have a little more respect for your readers' opinions.

Cowboy Hats and Carolina

I was looking at this photo from last night of Eric Church from WQDR's facebook page. He doesn't wear a cowboy hat. He's a Carolina boy and he has some integrity.  People in North Carolina don't wear cowboy hats unless they are dressing up like cowboys or cowgirls. I have had this argument many times with friends who claim that I need a cowboy hat to wear to concerts. Thank you, Eric Church, for reinforcing my point.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Does Eric Church Listen to NPR?

I am not at the Miranda Lambert concert tonight. From the day the tickets went on sale I've been debating whether or not to go, looking at available tickets, and just not pressing buy. Yesterday I saw the folly of my ways and made a desperate attempt to recruit one of my few friends who like country music to no avail.

The reason that I never bought tickets is a stupid one.  As much as I like Miranda Lambert, I really didn't want to see Eric Church, who is opening for her. I'm not going to say that I don't like Eric Church, because that wouldn't be totally true. I like the song "Smoke a Little Smoke", and remember thinking that he was loud, honest and rocked at the Country Throwdown. Unfortunately, the only time I've ever felt uncomfortable at a concert was also during that same set.  I was only uncomfortable for one song, but it left this indelible mark on my opinion of him. I can still remember the feeling of wanting to put my hands over my ears and walk out the minute he sang the lines "I believe the Bible is cold, hard fact. An' I believe that Jesus is comin' back, Before she does."  I have to laugh now as I reread the lyrics of Before She Does.  Being an NPR listener it reminds me of their "This I Believe" series and I wonder if that's what gave him the idea for the song. Maybe Eric Church is an NPR listener.  If that is the case perhaps we have at least one thing in common in addition to believing that O.J. did it.

I do regret that I'm not listening to Miranda right now.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Way Out Where?

One of the side affects of listening to country radio is that a line like "Our houses are protected by the good Lord and a gun, and you might meet'em both if you show up here unwelcome, son." may get stuck in your head. I actually think the Josh Thompson song  "Way Out Here" is rather catchy, even if it is yet another version of "A Country Boy Can Survive". In general, I have nothing against guns and think God is great, as long as they aren't being used in combination to kill anybody.  In anycase, that line doesn't need to be the soundtrack of my day.

I do have one small bone to pick with Mr. Thompson. "We won't take a dime if we ain't earned it."  The residents of rural America accept plenty of foodstamps. Farm subsidies aren't going to service workers in suburbia.  I believe that we should feed our hungry, so this is not a criticism of people that take food stamps if they need them.  I don't have a firm position on farm subsidies either way, but this claim that rural Americans are so hardy that, unlike the rest of us, they are able to overcome all hardship without help from taxpayers or charitable organizations, is a bunch of hooey.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

But is it Good for the Jews?

Yesterday I purchased and downloaded Jaron and the Long Road to Love's album, "Getting Dressed in the Dark". It's very easy to listen to, shall I say, easy listening. Every song is, at the very least, pretty, which I know isn't what an artist wants to hear, but that's the truth. Pretty songs. The one stand-out song is "Pray for You". It's been on the radio for a while and I understand from something Jaron posted on his facebook page, is now the #1 video on CMT.

The first time I heard the song “Pray for You” I was so surprised. It was one of those moments when I search the faces of other drivers at the stoplight for signs that we are listening to the same thing. Country music has many funny songs, but this one is mean funny. There are also countless country songs that talk about church, preachers and praying, but Pray for You is charmingly irreverent. A few days later I was flipping through a magazine and saw that a guy named Jaron Lowenstein sings “Pray for You”. Of course the MOT bells rang and I nearly plotzed in the checkout line as I heard my Grandmother, of blessed memory, ask “But is this good for the Jews?”

Why would I hear my Grandmother asking that?  If you don't know the song, here's the video. 

Jewish people don’t say “I’ll pray for you.” That’s a Christian expression.  So, as a Jewish person who has lived in the Bible belt most of her life, quite frankly, it made me feel a bit paranoid. What will they think of him, and us, if G-d forbid someone decides he is making fun of Christians. To me it’s obvious that he’s not making fun of anyone but himself, but G-d forbid someone doesn't see it that way. It would be a shame.

I dug around the Internet searching for insight. Very few people seem all that spun up about it. The song has its detractors, but in most of the comment threads I read, the complainers were greatly outnumbered by people who loved the song.  It's a poignant little song. I certainly had a grudge that immediately came to mind when I heard it.  When asked why he used a preacher and church in the song, Jaron has said in an interview that he co-wrote the song with the son of a Baptist minister and jokes that nothing rhymes with synagogue. Well, I am very glad that he was able to find a way to get that song out of his brain and onto the radio. If he had written it in a Jewish context, nobody would have heard it.

Yes! Grandma, it is good for the Jews. Country Weekly gave readers the option to vote for Jaron as Country’s hottest man.  I voted for him four times, using all my husband’s and my email addresses.  There is nothing that would make me happier than seeing his shaina punim on the cover of Country Weekly as Country Music’s hottest man. 

Now regarding the video for “That’s Beautiful to Me”. Why the Santa hat on the lady? Enough with the camouflage Jaron.  Grow some beitzim.

What's a nice Jewish girl like you doing listening to Country Music?

What's a nice Jewish girl like me doing listening to country music, they ask. If I was into Jazz, nobody would say a word. I've never been to New Orleans. My parents didn't listen to Jazz. But if I liked Jazz, that would be cool. How about hip hop or soul? I went to a Mary J. Blige concert with a friend who had an extra ticket. I didn't really know her music but I enjoyed it. Nobody thought it was odd that I was going to a Mary J. Blige concert.  I was one of a handful of Caucasians in the audience of 10,000, but nobody told me that they were surprised I was going because I'm white. Nobody laughed.

I'm an educated Jewish woman who really likes country music. Don't laugh because it's rude.

The seed for my love affair with country music was planted 1979 when a babysitter turned on the radio and changed the station.  The song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was on.  I remember this moment clearly because my parents only listened to classical music and the news, so it was very surprising. "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was the most wonderful song I had ever heard. It told a story. It had drama. It was noisy. I could feel the hellish fiddle in my hair follicles; the virtuous fiddle down to the bottom of my stamping feet.

From that moment on I've loved music with a bit of twang.  I grew up in the South and, being Jewish, have felt like a bit of an outsider, but country music and Southern rock have always sounded like home to me.  My family lived on the outskirts of a small Southern city and I had a rather pastoral childhood, running around in the fields and woods, catching tadpoles and crawdads. Dad is a conservative doctor (retired) who listened to classical music, drove a truck and kept guns. As a teenager I once had to give our Rabbi a ride somewhere in my Dad's truck and he told me that my Dad is an enigma. Perhaps I'm following suit. I'm an upper-middle class Jewish housewife who watches CMT and GAC while folding laundry.  I ditch the husband and kid to spend many a summer evening on the lawn of an amphitheater, drinking beer and dancing to the likes of Brooks & Dunn and Toby Keith.

One day I wanted to communicate with some fellow country music loving tribe members and did a google search for "Jewish country music fans". Virtual silence. So I decided to start a blog. If you're out there, holler and we'll kibitz.