Ive been thinking about the whole coast heartland thing, as noted by Yglesias and others, and had a hard time finding a way into the issue until last night.
We were driving home from the movies, Tenacious G, Middle Guy and I (we saw 8 Mile again, because the two of them wanted to), and I was punching the buttons on the stereo in the Mighty Odyssey Minivan when a discussion broke out.
The top 3 buttons on the stereo are taken up by the three major stations that TG and MG listen to (I tend to listen to the CDs in the changer because I hate commercials).
KCRW, the local NPR station; KZLA, the local corporate-owned country station; and KROQ, the local corporate-owned alternative rock station.
The voting politics are complex. Im totally fickle. Ill mostly turn things off; KCRW when it gets too sanctimonious or the World Music interludes become intolerable; KROQ when the grindcore songs come on; KZLA when really bad country-pop gets played. TG likes KCRW and KZLA. MG hates KZLA.
So when we got into the car, some awful Incubus song came on, and I punched KZLA, which was playing a current country hit called The Good Stuff. In case you dont listen, heres a typical lyric:
Not a soul around but the old bar keep,
Down at the end an’ looking half asleep.
An he walked up, an’ said : “What’ll it be?”
I said: “The good stuff.”
He didn’t reach around for the whiskey;
He didn’t pour me a beer.
His blue eyes kinda went misty,
He said: “You can’t find that here.
“‘Cos it’s the first long kiss on a second date.
“Momma’s all worried when you get home late.
“And droppin’ the ring in the spaghetti plate,
“‘Cos your hands are shakin’ so much.
“An’ it’s the way that she looks with the rice in her hair.
“Eatin’ burnt suppers the whole first year
“An’ askin’ for seconds to keep her from tearin’ up.
“Yeah, man, that’s the good stuff.”
And Middle Guy looked disgusted and asked me Why the hell do you listen to that stuff, anyway? How can you like the Vines and this? That answers another issue
But what I told him was that I liked the sound of good country music, and then started talking about the changes in country since Id started listening to it, and that today it was almost the last music about love, fidelity, loss and hope, and that I liked that.
And that one thing that I missed from rock was the hope and yearning that used to be a part of it back when I was Middle Guys age.
And, as these kind of talks tend to do, they got me thinking.
Id been thinking a lot about the Great Cultural Divide the whole red/blue thing, and I had a brief moment of clarity.
Its all about country music.
Or, rather, its all about the worldview that country music encapsulates.
Heres a counterpoint. My subscription to Harpers hasnt run out yet, although I wont be renewing it in spite of the flood of imploring letters and postcards Ive received from their subscription service, and in this months is a classic explanation of why (not available on the web):
On the honest unlovliness of William Trevors world
By Francine Prose
If part of what we seek from art is solace and consolation, an interlude of distraction, a brief escape from our daily cares, even a glimpse of happiness and who, in these disturbing times does not, or should not want all of that and more? it is simple enough to understand why the products of what we might call Comfort Culture should dramatically outperform a writer like William Trevor in the marketplace of analgesic entertainment. The Lovely Bones is narrated from heaven by a fourteen-year-old girl who has been raped and brutally murdered by a neighbor (think Our Town with dismemberment) and who receives as compensation for her earthly travails, an afterlife that includes a nice apartment, plenty of teen-girl magazines, a paradisical version of high school, and a front-row seat from which to observe the folks back home coping with their grief and puzzling over her killers identity. No such comforts are provided the unfortunate young women dispatched by Hilditch, the creepy serial killer in Trevors Felicias Journey; indeed it is characteristic of Trevors bravery as a writer, and of his passionate sympathy for even the most loathsome outsiders and misfits, that a good part of the book is written from the point of view of the demented and delusional Hilditch himself.
First, I cant help myself, but the idea of a literary critic with the name Prose does give me the giggles
but to get back to culture; while I can see a sensitive reading of Felicitys Journey and a sympathetic nod to the loathsome outsider as a steady part of the programming on KCRW, and a speed-metal version on KROQ (in fact the song probably already exists), there is no way that sympathy would be found on KZLA. No contemporary country song would celebrate that kind of brutality and despair. Were talking about a fundamental difference of worldview and taste, and this issue ought to serve as a pathway into understanding the gap between the worlds.
In the next part, Ill talk a bit about the social and economic realities behind the gap.