“Three Chords and the Truth” sums up what country musicians and songwriters claim about their music. Country music is about the truth. That doesn’t mean country songs take place in the real world. Like the characters in the Illiad or (more recently) The Lord of the Rings, the characters in country songs live their lives in a mythical landscape that is more real than the real world. Here’s my description of that world.
Country music people live in Small Town USA, which is located in one of two states – Texahoma and Tenntucky. Texahoma has ranches, cowboys and horses. Tenntucky has coal mines, hillbillies and hollers. When they want to engage in really sinful urban activities country music people travel by air to their favorite city – New Los Angelvegas. In the old days they just went to Town or more specifically to Jackson, but air travel has expanded their horizons. Trains have almost disappeared from the country music landscape, as have 18 wheelers. Younger people leave home a lot seeking opportunity and fame, but they always come home whether in triumph or in shame.
The only destination outside of the USA known to country music people is Mexico. Some country music performers are familiar with the Carribean, but it doesn’t appear that country music people travel there.
There are bars and even honky tonks in New Los Angelvegas, but country music people do most of their drinking and dancing in the honkey tonks of their home towns. The honky tonk is where you go if you’re interested in cheating or to drink and regret the consequences of it. It is also where you go to have some good clean fun. With the exception of Friday night football the honky tonks provide the only evening entertainment in Small Town USA. The honky tonk is generally located just outside town or near the county line. Country people don’t go to the movies or watch TV. They are football fans only — they have never heard of other sports.
Country music people spend their weekends hunting and fishing and going to church. They don’t drink while they hunt because that would be dangerous, but they rarely fish sober. They generally fish for bass. They own bass boats, not sail boats, yachts or other kinds of aquatic transportation.
Country music people drink beer, red wine, whiskey and tequila. They do not drink cocktails except for margaritas. They do not drink white wine or like the kind of people who do. For a long time country music people were firmly against the use of marijuana, but now it appears to be an acceptable drug for musicians and the young, all of whom give it up in adulthood. Musicians may also have used hard drugs, but only in the past as they are now recovering.
Country people are all evangelical Christians. Most appear to attend the Church of Christ, but they often know people who are Baptists. No other religions exist in country music, but there are atheists for contrast. Only the most dissolute sinners fail to attend Sunday morning services.
Country values are simple: hard work, patriotism, and rugged individualism. Fidelity is good, but infidelity seems to be a rather minor sin given how often country music people cheat. Country music people admire honesty and fair dealing, but there is no harm in cheating the rich, who deserve it. Country music people sometimes become rich and famous, usually by becoming country music stars, but they never forget their roots and their hardscrabble values.
Country music people are generally not haters and have a positive attitude toward others. They are rednecks with a redneck attitude that differs from the real world in that it is never small minded. The exception is those they think are not patriotic. They do not like and will not tolerate folks who don’t love the USA.
Race must not be a sensitive subject in the country music world because it is almost never discussed. On the rare occasions race comes up country music people are thankful that they don’t share the prejudices of their parents. Since the country music landscape does not include urban areas the only blacks are wise old men. There may or may not be hispanic persons. Video evidence exists that country music people are racially diverse and always good looking but this is not obvious from the lyrics of country music songs.
Country music people generally drive trucks. Young men may drive muscle cars as long as they are late model Trans Ams. The trucks are either old and muddy or tricked out and immaculately clean. Married women often drive mini vans, but it they talk about it divorce is imminent.
Country music women are tough and sexy. They are either getting rid of, pining after or looking for a man. It isn’t clear what older country music women wear, but younger country music women favor cut-off jeans with bikini tops, or tight fitting regular jeans with a tight fitting t-shirt. Either outfit is accompanied by cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. There is loose talk in the world of country about women wearing camo, but particular items of clothing are not mentioned. Country music men talk about the sexiness of their country music women quite a bit.
Country music men are tough and sexy except when old and wise. They are either getting over or looking for a woman. They are almost always the dumpee in their relationships, and although they are not deep thinkers they are aware it was their fault. They wear jeans or camo pants, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat or a feedcap. The favored feedcap is from John Deere. Shirts are a mystery, but video evidence suggests tight fitting t-shirts or western shirts. Country music men talk about their own sexiness quite a bit, possibly because it doesn’t often get mentioned by country music women.
Country music people often live in trailers, but an old farmhouse that they or their daddy build is more common. Young married country music people live in more conventional single family housing in an inexpensive neighborhood near the edge of town. It does not appear that country music people ever live in apartments or condominiums.
Country music people have generally graduated high school, but rarely finish more than two years of college. This limits their job opportunities, so country music people work on farms and ranches or in factories or small shops. When they are down on their luck they’ll work in fast food. If they work for a boss they hate him. There was a time when many country music men were on the rodeo circuit, but this seems to be less common today. Years ago country music women didn’t work, but now they almost always do. If single with children they have two jobs. Their loser husbands generally don’t pay child support and are frequently on the run. Or they work two jobs to support their family and resent it. Country music people do not go on welfare, but they know people who do.
Country music people are either young or old – middle age is unknown.
In the country music landscape Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr. effectively cover the spectrum of possibilities. They represent heartbreak, hard living, and knowing how to party. It isn’t clear that younger country music people know that Hank Williams and his son are different people. The rest of country music consists of George Jones, George Strait, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Lynard Skynard, with very rare nods to Waylon Jennings and Jerry Jeff Walker. Country music people are nostalgic, and although they listen to current musicians, no one whose career began after the early 80′s is ever discussed. Country music people know how to rock and roll, don’t care for rap, and have never heard of hip hop or any other type of urban music. Country music people listen exclusively to vinyl disks and 8 track tapes; CD’s and downloads are unknown.
That’s it – the world of country music. If you can’t find the truth there, you can’t find it at all.