It’s hard being a liberal country music fan sometimes, especially when you’ve got artists like Toby Keith and Alabama performing for Donald Trump. Toby Keith even took things a step further by performing for Trump on his trip to Saudi Arabia in May. Was he finally going to put a boot in their ass for 9/11?? Nope. Instead he went to kiss some ass (who goes by the name of Donald Trump) by performing a free concert, which was for men only. This might’ve been the first time in Saudi history that women had the advantage over men by not having to sit through that. Though it has been said that Toby Keith is not a supporter of Donald Trump, actions speak louder than words, and his actions are saying otherwise. And Alabama, really!? The same band that sings, “Daddy was a veteran, a southern democrat, They oughta get a rich man to vote like that” in “Song of the South!” Where did these guys go?
Not only do you have country artists cozying up to Trump but the lyrics of some country songs are pretty dang awful. I practically had to pick my jaw up off the ground when I was listening to David Allan Coe’s “If That Ain’t Country” not too long ago and heard the n-word. I even Googled the lyrics just to be sure I didn’t mishear him. I didn’t. He actually said it. As I looked more into Coe’s music, I found that in the ’80s, he released an underground album with a song that has a title too offensive to post here because it contains, you guessed it, the n-word again. If you’re curious about this song, there’s a whole world wide web where you can look this up for yourself. It might just be the liberal snowflake (sarcasm) in me getting offended by things but I think these songs should offend most people, not just us beautiful snowflakes.
Thankfully, for liberal country music fans like myself, there are people like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves, and Will Hoge out there who have restored my faith that there are other like-minded people in this genre.
Not Your Typical Country Song (And Thank Goodness!)
On Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit‘s new album, The Nashville Sound, there’s a song called “White Man’s World.” In addition to discussing race, looking at both African Americans and Native Americans in this country, this song also takes a swing at the patriarchy.
Isbell appeared on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah where he discussed this song along with the emotions that he was feeling the day after Trump won the election, especially in regards to his daughter. In this interview, Isbell said, “The thing that popped into my mind first was ‘Thank God she’s an infant, because I don’t have to explain any of this to her. She’ll figure it out as she grows up, but if she was a couple of years older I would have to be like, ‘OK, honey here’s what happened today and this is why your father doesn’t really know anything about human people in this country anymore.'”
In “White Man’s World,” Isbell brings up the emotions that he was feeling in regards to his daughter after the election by singing about how he once thought this world could be hers, but her momma knew better (her momma being Jason’s wife, singer/songwriter Amanda Shires Isbell). He also talks about looking into a black man’s eyes and “wishing [he’d] never been one of the guys who pretended not to hear another white man’s joke.” These are all topics you’re not likely to find in many country songs, making this song, and Jason’s outspokenness about politics, all that more important and necessary in these troubling times.
Love Trumps Hate
Not only are country songs dealing with the political issues of the day but so too are their music videos. In his video (see below) for “All Around You,” Sturgill Simpson shows a young boy draped in a cape with a superhero mask across his eyes who goes on to battle an enemy who has an uncanny resemblance to Donald Trump (take a look at minute 2:34, which is also pictured above.) He manages to defeat this Trumpian enemy with his heart-shaped shield, which he uses to make a hole in this guy’s wall (sound familiar?) for people to walk through. Hearts appear in other parts of the video from the ring on the young superhero’s finger to the shape of the stars that illuminate the sky after his defeat. This song comes from Sturgill’s Grammy Award winning album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, which he wrote as a letter to his son and wife. I can only imagine that Sturgill sees his sons (he now has two) reflected in the little boy in this video. The fact that he’s probably teaching them to use love to combat the hateful things taking place in this world makes me love Sturgill even more than I already did (and that was a lot!)
This isn’t the first time (and I’m sure it won’t be the last) that Sturgill Simpson has gotten political in his music. Take the lyrics from his song “Call to Arms” for example.
“I done Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran
North Korea tell me where does it end
Well the bodies keep piling up with every day
How many more of em they gonna send
Well they send their sons and daughters off to die
For some oil
To control the heroin
Well son I hope you don’t grow up
Believing that you’ve got to be a puppet to be a man”
Country music needs more artists like Sturgill Simpson who aren’t afraid to get political in their songs and music videos!
[Side note: if you aren’t familiar with the genius that is Sturgill Simpson, please take some time to familiarize yourself. This man is one of the best things to happen to country music in a looong time!]
Love Whomever You Damn Well Please
I couldn’t write this post without including my girl Kacey Musgraves. In 2014, she won Song of the Year at the CMA Awards for her song, “Follow Your Arrow.” Despite this achievement, Kacey got some crap for this song. With lines like “Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into” and encouraging people to roll up a joint (or don’t), people’s panties definitely got in a bunch over this song. According to Fox News, some people saw the song as an “attack on Christians” (insert picture of me rolling my eyes here.) With Trump’s announcement last week that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the military, more friends of the LGBTQ community need to speak up and speak out. Kacey not only did this with her music but she also tweeted her support of pride month back in June and even wrote a love letter to the LGBTQ community featured on Billboard.
To all the members of the LGBTQ community- keep following your arrow!
That Damn Confederate Flag
Country music is synonymous with the south, which unfortunately often brings to mind images of Confederate flags. Thankfully, there are country artists speaking out against this ugly flag in their music. When it comes to the stars and bars, Will Hoge ain’t having it. In his song, “Still a Southern Man,” he makes it clear that you can be a southerner and not support the Confederate flag. However, he hasn’t always felt this way. Growing up in South Carolina, Hoge “used to proudly wave the Confederate flat at high school football games.” After all, his school’s mascot was the rebel soldier. It wasn’t until he graduated and began traveling and meeting people from different walks of life that he finally saw the flag for what it really is: a symbol of “slavery, oppression and secession.” He discusses this realization in his song where he calls the flag “a hammer driving nails in the coffin of a long dead land.”
“There’s a flag flying overhead
And I used to think it meant one thing
But now I’ve grown up and seen the world
And I know what it really means
I wanted it to be the symbol of a boy
Who wasn’t scared to take a stand
But now I know it’s just a hammer driving nails
In the coffin of a long dead land”
The artists that have been mentioned in this post are all newer artists, but as Steve Earle shows, the older guys are also getting in on this. Earle sang about his disdain for the Confederate flag in his 2015 song, “Mississippi It’s Time.” In this song, he tries to reason with Mississippi that it’s time for the flag to come down. As the song states, “we can’t move ahead if we’re lookin’ behind.” Another major kudos goes to the “Copperhead Road” singer for giving all of the proceeds from this song to the Civil Rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Look away, Mississippi
Mississippi, you’re on my mind
All the crosses burned and the lessons unlearned
Left a scar across my heart and it’s ten miles wide
Sick of sloggin’ through the history of this wounded land of mine
Still payin’ the cost cause the war was lost
Mississippi, don’t you reckon it’s time
I wish I was in a land that never held a soul in bondage ever
Wouldn’t have to drag these chains behind
Mississippi, it’s time“
Us liberals know the true meaning of this flag (it’s slavery- anyone who says differently needs to quit kidding themselves) and appreciate artists like Will Hoge and Steve Earle for speaking up about this.
Although Johnny Cash never lived to see a Trump presidency (or evan a candidacy- that lucky son of a gun!), I’d like to think that if he were alive today, that he would be opposed to this administration. Because if not, what was wearing all that black really for?
“I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he’s a victim of the times”
I hope these artists and the messages that they convey give hope to all the liberals out there who have been turned off from country music because they’ve seen it as a close-minded, pro-Trump genre. As the current administration continues to go after minorities and the most vulnerable of our society, I hope that more country artists will use their voice in their music, social media, interviews, etc. to speak out.
I’m also still wondering what the audience in Riyadh thought about Toby Keith’s performance….
Currently listening to: Johnny Cash- “Man in Black”