Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Yankee Mourns Jerry Reed

To me, Jerry Reed represents how Country music slipped into the mainstream of popular middle- to no-brow marketplace accessibility. Which means that he'll be remembered by future generations as the hayseed singing' 'bout dogs, trucks, ex-wives.
Jerry, the amiable character actor. Jerry, the gifted singer-songwriter. Jerry, the savvy business mind.
Naw, we'll jes be yooo-logizin' the good ol' boy which sung us 'bout Amos Moses.
I remember sitting on the school bus, trying to ignore the loud, scratchy AM radio that the driver insisted upon playing. This was last century, when "morning radio" was about playing popular, family-friendly, crossover novelty hits while giving the time'n'temp'n'scores in ninety-second bursts between ads and songs.
As a fifth-grader, I didn't think that "When You're Hot, You're Hot" was serious music, because "serious music" was the utterly inaccessible Classical or Jazz that older folk had on their record players. I was brought up to believe that important music, like "Take the A-Train" or "Straight No Chaser" would define our culture.
And "Jeremiah was a Bullfrog" would not.
But I look around these days and I wonder.
The rich, literary, and impressively complex Southern culture has been unfairly distilled to mere "redneck."
Even here in Massachusetts, I see the flag of the Confederacy on pickups. I hear people cheerfully quoting Jeff Foxworthy and Larry The Cable Guy without the irony. I listen as neighbors drive up and down our road on dirt bikes or in SUVs cranking Brooks & Dunn.
I go to more bluegrass and folk shows than rock or jazz.
I feel a little guilt about some of the books in my library: Gabriel Garcia Marquez is not Charlaine Harris. (I do, however, have plenty Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and a special place in my heart for To Kill A Mockingbird.)
I have always fought the urge to adopt good ol' boy line readings when the part calls for "a country bumpkin." It just doesn't seem fair.
But, since I have a New Englander's penchant for complete sentences and keeping most of the consonants intact, I have been called "Yankee," or more recently, "an elitist."
But that isn't my point here.
My point is that our last two presidents have had southern accents and one of our current vice-presidential choices has said that she is proud to be "a redneck."
I sometimes convince myself that people who claim to be proud of being "a redneck" are truly proud as I am of the origin of the word: The red bandanas worn by the 15,000 union-organizing coal miners who stood up to mining company oppression in the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia

Convince, or delude.

2 comments:

bigsam27 said...

You wrote:
"morning radio" was about playing popular, family-friendly, crossover novelty hits...

It's been 27 years and I still can't get Shaddap You Face by Joe Dolce out of my head - someone please shoot me...

ThirdMate said...

AAAargh, EARWORM CLASSIC!

And these days, all we have is that guy in the polyester pirate outfit singing about his credit report.