In 1994, when I was wrapping up as an undergrad, I wrote what would turn out to be a handful of “commentary” columns for the college paper. One entitled, “Country music fans feared by some, loathed by others,” bit sarcastic at the near universal castigation of country music listeners within the limited sphere of school, where I existed. Which was fun. Very ha-ha! Except what I wrote was an allegory that no one else got — including my high-brow and slightly pompous English major editor.
At the time, it was going on two years since the riots in Los Angeles that followed the police beating of Rodney King. But what upshot in its wake then — and not unlike now — was a piggyback and pile on of all the self-interest, all the wannabe issues that strayed from the real cause and deep meaning, what detracted from what touched off such righteous protestation, and what watered down the impact of a call to alarm for dire things in need of fixing.
So I wrote on the persecution — MY persecution — that unfurled for a country music listener, at that age, in school, for me.
I think back to it now, my college commentary written in reflection of the spiraling self-interest after the riots for Rodney King, with us now, again, facing victim culture amid real strife that lulls and dulls and strays far afield from righteous discord:
COUNTRY MUSIC FANS FEARED BY SOME, LOATHED BY OTHERS
(As published in the Daily Campus, 1994)
Lately, I’ve seen a prejudice growing fast and strong on this campus. In fact, it surprises me that at a university as liberal as UConn, this problem still persists. If what I speak of isn’t already clearly evident, I talk of the horror of the bias against country music. To be honest, I’m not just a witness to these barbarous acts of disgust and ignorance, but also a victim. The annals of what I introduce to you now are startling and shocking, yet only a smattering of what life as a music minority actually is.
As it is well known, all of the “isms” are already used up or tied up in the Supreme Court, so I am left to fight this one alone. The fragile mental and psychological stage of life that I’m in has rendered me defenseless, and just trying to function as an average, run-of-the-mill, hormonal college student is more difficult than ever. Dating is a tribal ritual hard enough on its own, and I’ve got this country music affliction, so that makes me doubly screwed. Meeting people is tough. Let me run that one again: Meeting sober people is tough, and getting started always seems to be the hardest part.
One of the hot, just-starting-to-date conversation topics that comes up when no one has anything to say is usually about common interests, and that usually leads to tastes in music.
I suppose I’m setting an awful lot of girls up for a fall because, ladies, I do listen to some country music. Because of my modesty, most women admire my magnetism, appreciate my kindness, cherish my self reverence, adore my boyish charm and relish my humility — but nothing goes untarnished with the simple utterance of, “And I listen to some Garth Brooks, too.” Wham, like a ton of bricks. I don’t know what it is.
Everything I might have impressed her with has dissipated, as those fateful words seemingly echo to deafening proportions with fatal consequences now coming into play. And as I sit there with her, dribbling every trivial fact about myself out of my mouth just to hold her attention and keep the conversation rolling, she’s taking notes, mental notes. I don’t even know what I’m saying, and she’s building an arsenal to use against me four months down the road. But, with this confession, I’ve saved her the trouble; now she’s got free shots whenever the urge strikes.
I could pass myself of as a Seattle fence-sitter, but no attempt to make it in life or with anyone is worth the shame of denying where I am from and what roots are associated with my music.
I will not trounce my heritage or change who I am as I enter into the world of merging style and taste. To hell with conformity and the melting pot of mainstream music. I have rights, damn it, but I only recite those I agree with.
I only ask to be understood. A lot of country music is too country and too western, even for me, but some things about it I really admire. Most of what’s said in a country song is of the life and love and death of ordinary people. And better yet, when I’m listening to a country song, it’s all mine. Because no one likes country music, and certainly no girl would compromise her morals and listen to it, I haven’t assigned any heavy emotions to any of the music, like you do with some songs when you’re in love. It’s just me and Garth, strumming and thumping when I need some time to get myself together.
Next time you walk by and you hear the twang of a country song being strummed out on someone’s stereo, keep your head down and just walk by. It’s hard to be empathetic for something you haven’t been through and know nothing about, and sympathy has never been a worthwhile crutch for me.
Between laughs and finger pointing, try to keep something in mind. No one chooses to listen to country music, they just do. No one wakes up one day and says they like country music. It’s something deep sewn, inherent and completely no fault of our own. This high-risk music listening group to which I am a member has its hazards, filled with social scrutiny, snide remarks and general badgering.
I offer no solutions, but still expect you to respond. In this cold world to which I have been borne, my wants are pure and genuine. I’m looking for a little compassion. I’m looking to be embraced.