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I Was Country Before Beyonce Was Country

Marc Munroe Dion on

The old man's idea of paradise is inertia.

Right now, there's an old woman looking sadly out the window of her apartment, seeing the vacant store where the "good" bakery was, or the kosher deli, or the bar with the neon shamrock in the window. The Dominicans and Haitians who moved into the neighborhood didn't have much use for those places. Maybe it's time to head for the suburbs.

Your world dies before you do. My wife mourns a now-closed mall where she went on dates as a teenager. I can't bear to drive past my old grade school, which is now apartments, and not nice apartments, either.

And so, as a man closing in on 70, and a country music fan, what should I think of Beyonce holding the number one spot on the country music charts?

Isn't that just another castle sacked by the barbarians, another kosher deli closed, another red brick Catholic grade school chopped into small un-luxe apartments?

Even now, my Spotify is clotted with George Jones, Merle Haggard, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Ernest Tubb and other "classic country" stars. They share space with old blues, and Cajun songs sung in French.

I worry about that sometimes, that a lot of my music is old. I grew up when old folks said "That's not music" about The Beatles, the way they say it about rap music now.

I never liked the Beatles, but I like rap, and that's on my Spotify, too, and I sometimes listen to the rap station for a couple of days at a time.

 

These days (These days? Damn, I'm old), most country music sounds like 1970s arena rock with maybe a fiddle in the band, so it's not like Beyonce is off the track. She sounds like the other country singers of our time.

When I heard Beyonce had done a country album and it had a hit, I drove to the shores of a nearby lake, and sat in my car long enough to hear the song three or four times.

It's not bad. It's not the country music with which I grew up, but it's what country music is now. I don't think Beyonce is leading the barbarians at the gate. I think she's an artist pushing her talent a little. She's not taking my country music away from me, she's adding something, or trying something, the way country music has incorporated the sounds of rock music or borrowed from the blues. A Black street musician taught Hank Williams Sr. to play guitar. Elvis came out of the bubbling swamp waters of blues and country and gospel. She's singing as country as she wants to sing, and you don't have to listen.

And don't forget, if Beyonce is the first Black woman to have a number one country hit, country music has always been the music of those who stand just outside. It's been the music of rednecks, hillbillies, hoboes, moonshiners, drunken husbands, cheating wives and white trash. Country singers were the first musical stars to sing about divorce and prison. The music will endure a different kind of whoop, a new holler and a new moan.

We're a rollicking, mixing, bust-up-the-old-ways people, we Americans. Your great-grandfather came here from Poland in 1905 and spent his whole life living in a Polish neighborhood, speaking Polish and eating Polish food. You're married to a Black woman, and the two of you went out for Mexican food last night.

It's a shaky cultural life for an old guy. Something's always changing or closing or being made new. It's OK to listen to the old music, but try the rap station every now and then.

To find out more about Marc Dion, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, a collection of his best columns, is called "Mean Old Liberal." It is available in paperback from Amazon.com and for Nook, Kindle, and iBooks.


 

 

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