22 September 2005

Country Music.

After nine years living in the West, I have finally reached the point where I can listen to country music on the radio without immediately changing the channel. Growing up in Ohio, there was a cultural divide. City kids listened to rock. Rednecks listened to country. The divide, like the cultural divide that splits our country, ran deep. I grew up as a city kid. But, just because I can stand to listen to it now, doesn't mean that I understand it. I don't.

Everyone has their ups and downs. There are optimistic days, and days when the future seems dark. How dark is hard to quantify. Rating emotions on a scale of one to ten is horribly subjective. The English language doesn't have very quantitative measures either. At times, I've tried to track my own emotions, but I've wanted to do it in a manner that I could communicate to someone else if I ever wanted to do so. So, I formulated what I call the "Despair Index". The notion behind the Depair Index is to compare the extent to which negative feelings are impairing your judgment and ability to function, to the extent to which consuming a comparable number of beers in a single setting would. If you score four or five beers on the Depair Index, you are probably not safe to drive, even if you are stone cold sober. A bad day at the office might rate two or three beers. When you start hitting the double digits on anything like a regular basis, you need professional help.

Anyway, the point of this diversion is that the Depair Index provides a means to compare different genres of music. Most of rock music (with some notable but not very common exceptions), is safely in the one to three beer zone, if not stone cold sober and actually happy. Country music is different. Can you even make it onto the radio if you haven't, at least, hit the six or seven beer level on the Depair Index? Are there protaganists in country music songs who haven't been abandoned by wives, lovers, children and dogs? Even the "happy" songs come across as such a squalid existence that you get the impression that everyone involved has passed the "just don't care" threshold long ago. County music DJs absorb more misery in a day than most psychiatrists see in a year. Is that an occupational hazard or something? What do you have to have going on in your life to feel the need to listen to this stuff all day long? No wonder rural people and Southerners are prematurely cynical, vote for Republicans and can stomach the cruel cynicism of talk radio. No one with compassion and empathy circuits still in tact could bear to listen to it for more than a couple of hours a month.

A friend of mine lost the use of her taste buds and as a result kept trying to make her cooking more and more spicy, until she served a meal that made everyone else at the table almost keel over and diagnosed the real problem. Maybe country music is going for a similar effect, trying to find something that will break through otherwise numbed emotions.

I'm sure that there must be more to the genre. I don't claim to get it. But, in the mean time I will have to limit my consumption of country music to those rare moments when I'm already at the six or seven beer level on the Depair Index. You can't be too careful.

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