Country roots mosey on through in college


I have a confession to make: I listen to country music. (Pause for the collective wincing of… I have a confession to make: I listen to country music. (Pause for the collective wincing of my friends, the general northeastern college student population and my editors)

Now, I’m not admitting this readily, nor do I say it with the prideful bravado of a serious fan. In fact, it’s something that I generally don’t bring up in conversation – maybe I am even a little embarrassed to admit it.

In fact, until now, the only people who knew were my roommates, as they hear my radio alarm go off in the morning. And every morning, it’s Brad Paisley or Carrie Underwood or Brooks and Dunn singing through my radio.

Allow me to, in a roundabout way, explain this: music can be defined not just by its genre but by the different niches it fulfills in one’s own musical nutritional needs.

For example, there’s the music you listen to because everyone listens to it, and you don’t want to be the only loser at the party who doesn’t know the Soulja Boy dance. Actually, I still don’t know that dance, nor, really, do I intend to learn it. So, I guess I know what that makes me, but you know what I mean.

Or there’s the music you listen to because it absolutely blows your mind, a la The Mars Volta. If your brain isn’t a completely orgasmic mush by the end of Frances the Mute, you’re doing something wrong.

There’s the music you listen to because your parents listened to it. The Police, Queen and Genesis hold legitimacy for me not because they now hold a legendary status but because my dad listened to them. And – I’m not ashamed to say it – my dad is cool.

Finally, there’s the music you listen to simply because it’s your favorite. I’m a sucker for certain silver-tongued British primates who are very cold (Arctic Monkeys, anyone?).

But no matter what kind of genre the music is, the reason it is on our playlists and radios is because we connect with it on some level, in some manner.

Which brings me back to Kenny, Garth, Reba and the rest of them.

First, I have to explain where I grew up: It is a small, white-bread town. I went to school with the same group of kids for 13 years.

The biggest edifice in the town is the mansion church. There are many churches, but this one is distinct merely because of its size. Seriously, the sanctuary is bigger than a gymnasium, and it requires suspended screens in order for the parishioners to see the preacher.

My town also has a tri-annual event entitled “Old Home Week,” which is a huge deal. I can’t really explain why.

My high school senior prom was to be held in a barn, that is, until the usual small town scandal involving zoning laws and farmland forced it to be moved to an auction house.

But, I never thought of my home as a “hick town” until I got to college and realized that not everyone drove a Ford F150.

Growing up, everyone and his brother in my town listened to country music. That’s not just a turn of phrase, either. Literally, the Smiths were related to the Jones’, distant cousins of the Millers and the Johnsons – and they all listened to country music.

I couldn’t stand it. I refused to listen to it, thinking it aligned me even more closely with a town that I desperately wanted to get out of. When I finally got to college, I was relieved and surprised to find other people who listened to “real” music, good music. It was sort of a musical reawakening for me, as I discovered new bands and sounds that I really liked.

But going away to college changed something else, too. The first college I attended was about 45 minutes from my hometown. Driving home, I had to listen to the radio because my car didn’t have a CD player. And it was in this first year of school, on those trips home for breaks or Christmas or whatever, that my taste for country music changed.

Driving over the mountains between school and home, the radio frequencies often waned to one or two stations, and these stations played, of course, country music. At first, I was perturbed that I couldn’t even get a basic pop station to save me from having to digest the twang, but after a while, I started to not hate it so much. Then, slowly, I started to tolerate it, and now, sometimes, I even choose to listen to it.

After all, it was when my radio faded into only country music that I knew I was going home. And, for that reason, it stuck in my head.

Am I saying country music is prolific? No. I’m not even saying that some of it is good – although most students on a liberal, urbanite campus such as ours, I believe, sorely underappreciate its merits. Classic country music has influenced more than a few legendary rock and R’B artists.

Nevertheless, in a typically ironic way, the very thing I hated most about my hometown is now the one thing that most reminds me of it. Country music brings a comfort and familiarity to my existence here in the big city. I would even stretch to say that it is one mode through which I stay connected to my roots.

But just one. I mean, there is such a thing as being too connected to one’s roots.