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Country Music, Punk, and the U.S. Election
Y ou probably missed country star Darryl Worley’s performance at the 38th Super Bowl, overshadowed as it was by the headline-grabbing antics of Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson.
it’s been a good 12 months or so for the country singer who
went from being just another stetson in the country music firmament
to one of its biggest stars with “Have You Forgotten?”—an
emotive call to arms in which Worley asks:
Have you forgotten how it felt that day
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away?
Have you forgotten when those towers fell?
We had neighbors still inside
Going through a living hell
And you say we shouldn’t worry ‘bout Bin Laden
Have you forgotten?
According to Worley’s record label, Dreamworks, the song scaled the charts faster last year than any single in recent memory, prompting one Dreamworks talking head to claim, “Daryl has hit a nerve that strikes to the core of this country.” “Have You Forgotten?” helped Worley bag a Best New Male Vocalist nomination at last year’s annual Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards as well as a hat trick of nominations at the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Country Music Awards. In the event, Worley was beaten for the Songwriter and Artist of the Year titles by Alan Jackson, whose more contemplative “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” (I’m just a singer of simple songs/I’m not a real political man/I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I can tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran) also helped him to Country Music Awards Entertainer and Male Vocalist of the Year titles.
Where the likes of the Dixie Chicks are only now starting to recover from the adverse publicity and country radio boycotts caused by very public anti-Bush comments, some country stars have jumpstarted healthy if unremarkable music careers thanks to their twangin’ post 9/11 triumphalism. Foremost among these is Toby Keith, who recently walked off for the second year in a row with the coveted Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year Award. Most famous for “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” Worley’s Dream- works labelmate scored a massive hit last year with a finger-wagging song that angrily warned:
Justice will be served
And the battle will rage
This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage
And you’ll be sorry that you messed with the US of A
‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass
It’s the American Way.
It comes as no surprise that President Bush is a card carrying member of the Toby Keith Appreciation Society. Keith’s unique brand of angry Americanism wowed them at the Pentagon and on a USO tour of Bosnia and Kosovo last year. This year Keith undertook an extended USO tour, which took in Kosovo, Germany, Italy, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
“It was a song I was inspired to write because I lost my father six months before 9/11,” explained Keith at the time. “Nobody wrote an angry American song and this was one. It was the way everybody felt when they saw those two buildings fall.” Enjoying what can only be described as a hot songwriting streak, Keith went on to pen “The American Soldier” and “The Taliban Song”:
So we prayed to Allah with all of our might
And then those big U.S. jets came flyin one night
They dropped little bombs all over our holy land
And man you should have seen em run like rabbits, they ran—the Taliban
This song helped Keith’s overall album sales touch the 20 million mark. The name of his latest album is Shock ’ n Y ’ all .
P erforming at a Spirit of America concert at Tampa’s Mac- Dill Airbase last year, Darryl Worley took time out to tell George W. Bush that he prayed for him daily. Bush responded by saying “that is the greatest gift you could ever give a president.” Not to be outdone, Keith dedicated his Country Music Television 2003 Flameworthy Video of the Year award to Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks, as well as “all the people over there [Iraq] putting it down for us tonight.” Winning the same prize again this year, Keith told the audience, “I know it’s getting to be old hat sometimes to be patriotic, but don’t forget our brothers and sisters overseas making it free for us tonight.”
“Toby Keith hit a bullseye at West Point,” said Bill Yost, director of West Point’s Eisenhower Hall Theatre. “His tribute to the American Soldier warmed the hearts and souls of the Cadets and Soldiers who were in attendance for the concert.” Last year Worley received a U.S. flag from Lieutenant General Richard Cody during a concert in Montgomery, Alabama. The flag was presented to Worley in recognition of his vocal support for U.S. soldiers and their families’ patriotism.
It is doubtful whether country music has ever enjoyed a higher public profile, with interest in country music at a premium thanks to country’s favored sons current willingness to champion the patriotic cause at the drop of a ten gallon hat. Visitors to www.country goldusa.com (“lyrics for country music and patriotic songs”) can express their patriotism by investing in a “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” collector plate. Certainly, the patriotic furrow that has been ploughed so relentlessly since September 11 by country music stars has captured the imagination of large swathes of the U.S. public. However, it’s a peculiarly exclusive sort of chisel jawed, chest beating patriotism, equally in thrall to syrupy sentimental notions of some bygone white picket fenced America as it is to the might of the modern U.S. military complex.
Of course, country music has long been a repository for conservative thinking and a reactionary force for the enshrining of “traditional American” values. Substitute the hokey comedy factor of Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” (“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee/We don’t take our trips on LSD/We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street/We like living right, and being free”), with the righteous indignation of current country stalwarts and you’ll find that not much has changed. Country music’s hijacking of populist blue collar values has long acted as a cloak to an industry more at home in the corporate boardroom than on the front porches of the regular downhome folk it patronizes.
Nowhere is the country music industry’s symbiotic relationship to power and commerce more apparent than at glad-handing awards ceremonies where corporations like Wal-Mart (scourge of working poor Americans and small communities alike) pick up baubles like ASCAP’s Partner in Music Award for their exceptional dedication to promoting and expanding the reach of country music. Academy of Country Music members can likewise vote for the Home Depot Humanitarian Award or the Don Romeo Talent Buyer/Promoter of the Year.
Perhaps more curious still than country music’s right-leaning instinct are forums like Conservative Punk, created “to educate, inform, and increase the little known demographic of the Conservative Punk” in the run up to the presidential election. Yes, there really is a little known conservative punk demographic of punk rockers who believe in small government, low taxes, and acting when necessary to defend the country. Promoting itself as a conservative alternative to liberal Rock the Vote type initiatives, Conservative Punk aims to give “today’s young people a way to view politics from a different perspective.” That’ll be the different perspective offered up by conservative punks like Nation of Suspects who sing:
Beat ‘em till they couldn’t take no more
blood and teeth splattered on the floor
on ‘America 2 - Iraq 0
A number of country music fans have decided to challenge the plaid and gingham-checked conservative country status quo. In Nashville, disgruntled music industry leaders have banded together to form the Music Row Democrats in order to recruit and organize Democrats in the music community. Set up in December 2003, Music Row Democrat activities include Kerry fundraisers with artists like Emmy- lou Harris and Allison Moorer performing to raise funds for the Kerry presidential campaign.
Yet a few notable country music exceptions aside, most country singers are loathe to say anything vaguely critical of Bush or the occupation in Iraq lest they find themselves on the receiving end of a consumer and Clear Channel type boycott (an allegation still refuted by Clear Channel who claims that local managers make their own programming decisions). As one poster to FreeRepublic.com points out, “If they plan on recruiting all the liberals in country music, they could hold a concert in a closet....”
Richard Perle famously said, “If we let our vision of the world go forth and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”
People in the U.S. owe it to themselves to choose their own soundtrack.
William MacDougall contributes to a number of publications, including Counterpunch, Outlook India, and Red Pepper .
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.