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Whose Country?

27 Nov Posted by in • Jewelle Gomez | Comments Off on Whose Country?
Whose Country?

Recently a co-worker told me that she couldn’t get over the fact that I liked country music. I wasn’t completely surprised because most of us live in narrow cultural boxes in which we expect everything to fit neatly.  People of color and country are not supposed to be in the same package.  That was part of why folks cheered so wildly when Barack Obama praised country music during his campaign. The Civil War is never over. Country music fans were surprised a man of color recognized them.  And isn’t that what we all want…to be recognized.

When African American singer, Darius Rucker, won at the Country Music Awards this year the audience responded so enthusiastically it was clear that many were thrilled that the first non-white singer since Charlie Pride was being recognized.  Self-congratulatory maybe; but it signaled a new generation of CW artists.

After all, a couple of years ago the Dixie Chicks survived being attacked and black listed by radio stations for speaking out against George Bush.  Just to support them I bought ten copies of their CD, ‘Taking the Long Way Home,’ which responded to the death threats they’d received.  I gave the CD to friends and helped raise some consciousness and cut through some left-wing snobbishness about country music.  Even I can move past the name Lady Antebellum…the antebellum part is a bit scary…and love their music and the stories they tell.

Sometimes the words are too sexist or racist (not too fond of the string of margarita chicks songs that some guys are fond of) but I could say that about almost any form of popular music.  Rap and hip hop are minefields of ‘isms.’  R & B, both old school and contemporary, enthusiastically reinforce the images of two extremes: the little woman waiting for her man and the heart breaking bitch trapping her man.  Still I love a lot of the music.

I grew up listening to radio before stations were swallowed up by corporations and made everything so fragmented.  I heard every form and style from big band to protest songs and all vocalists from Frank Sinatra to James Brown.  How could I resist the heart break in the sound of Patsy Cline’s voice when she sang “Walking after Midnight” or “Crazy?”  I was in high school when I heard those songs on the radio and knew I’d never forget them just like I’d never forget Aretha’s “Natural Woman” or the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” Radio in the 1960s was the most erudite musical education ever offered.  And music is the most universal art form.  It can reach inside to visceral places that don’t require translation.  A drum changes the rhythms in your body no matter who you are.

I know that the words won’t always make me happy.  I figure if I keep listening I’ll hear it all evolving from the Stone Age to the New Age some day.

Jewelle Gomez is the author of 7 books including the lesbian vampire classic novel, The Gilda Stories.  Her new play about James Baldwin will be produced in September 2011. Follow her on Twitter: VampyreVamp.  Or her website: www.jewellegomez.com

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